Quenching Thirst of Millions: DJB managing Delhi’s Water Demands

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Nikhil Kumar

Situated on the banks of the mighty Yamuna, Delhi, the Indian capital struggles to cater to the growing drinking water demands of the citizens. With small geographical, Delhi has a limited share of the surface and the groundwater which pose a critical issue. Shedding light on how Delhi Jal Board is managing to quench the thirst of millions, Nikhil Kumar, IAS, CEO, Delhi Jal Board interacted with Nisha Samant Purbey and Adarsh Som of Elets News Network (ENN) in an exclusive interview for the eGov magazine.

Over 10 percent of households in Delhi do not have piped water supply. What are the challenges you face when it comes to fixing such issues?

Delhi Jal Board (DJB) is entrusted with the responsibility to provide safe and wholesome drinking water to the citizens of Delhi, collection and treatment of generated sewage to the permissible standards before disposal or reuse. Our approach is multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral towards perspective planning and project implementation both in the water and sewerage sector.

Delhi is the National Capital and to provide safe and good quality drinking water in sufficient quantity at adequate pressure to the people of Delhi is an enormous task that needs 24×7 efforts.  DJB is one of the largest water utility in the country with daily production and distribution of about 935 MGD (4245 MLD) of potable water in the city. 

The scenario for Delhi is more challenging on the supply-demand matrix. On the supply side, Delhi is constrained by its very limited sources of raw water. It has limited river water availability through the Yamuna, which is predicated by interstate river water allocation agreements and its implementation. Its groundwater resources are severally restricted due to its small geographical area, which is already overstressed. On the demand side, Delhi is buffeted by one of the highest population density, which is inexorably increasing, burgeoning the demand for water. The situation becomes more complex due to the mixed development pattern of the city, consisting of planned areas and unplanned habitations like urban & rural villages, unauthorized colonies, JJ Clusters etc. In such a scenario, it becomes highly challenging to meet water demands for the citizens of Delhi in a uniform and equitable manner, with strict adherence to prescribed quality standards across the entire city encompassing over 1480 sq km.

Piped water supply network is being progressively extending to the entire city. In the planned developments, piped water supply infrastructure is laid by the land developing agencies, primarily the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). In the unplanned developments like unauthorized colonies, urban/rural villages, regularized colonies etc. localized tube-wells are installed in the water deficit areas to supplement water demand. 

Out of the 1796 unauthorized colonies, a total of 1617 of unauthorized colonies have been covered with piped water supply network. Out of these, water supply has been released in 1568 colonies and another 49 colonies will be notified shortly for the supply of water. Works are in progress in another 33 colonies.

Some of the unauthorized colonies and habitations have come up on the government/forest lands etc., where extension of piped water supply infrastructure is dependent on their legality and extant policies of the Government. However, the DJB is supplying drinking water through water tankers in all such areas, where piped water supply network has not been extended so far. More than 1000 water tankers are deployed on a need basis and their movement is regularly monitored.

What measures are being taken to improve the water quality and quantity in the capital?

It must be emphasized that DJB accords the highest priority to the safety and quality of the water supplied in the city and is taking consistent and concerted measures to ensure that safe and wholesome drinking water of prescribed standards is supplied to the people of Delhi. Outlines of our strategy/plan are as under ;

  • Quality assurance following BIS 10500-2012 at Water Treatment Plants (WTPs) and consumers end is ensured.
  • Water testing facilities are available at WTPs and eight Zonal Laboratories, which are upgraded from time to time. DJB has envisaged increasing the numbers of zonal laboratories and equipping all the laboratories with the latest technology.
  • DJB has full-fledged quality control cell headed by Director (T&QC). More than 500 Water samples are collected daily from different parts of the city at the UGR level, as well as at consumers end, and tested by qualified quality control personnel. 
  • During the summer months, joint sampling along with the Health Department of MCDs is carried out to ensure the supply of quality water as per the prevalent standards. Third-Party Audit and quality testing by an independent agency like NEERI are also conducted for testing of water samples. 
  • Water Samples at the consumer end are also regularly collected and tested by the zonal field staff. 

In terms of water quantity, the optimum production of potable water is about 935 MGD, which includes about 90 MGD from groundwater resources.Nikhil Kumar

Delhi has nine water treatment plants, out of which production (595 MGD i.e. raw water 610 MGD less about three percent treatment losses) at seven water treatment plants is dependent on the conveyance of river water  (Ravi – Beas water from BBMB and Yamuna Water – 610MGD i.e. 1133 cusec) through Haryana, while two water treatment plants (Sonia Vihar and Bhagirathi-production-250 MGD) located in east Delhi receive Ganga water from Murad Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. 

There is a shortfall of about 200 MGD to meet the present demand for potable water in Delhi. Thus, augmentation of raw water availability is essential to the NCT of Delhi because of its continued urbanization, resultant exponential population growth and the imperative of securing its basic requirement of water and other related services.

Also Read: India’s Water Scenario: Challenges & Probable Solutions

A twin-pronged strategy has to be adopted, which focuses on the augmentation of both, ground-water and river (surface) water resources, while also emphasizing the need for enhanced water conservation measures, rainwater harvesting initiatives, restoration of water bodies etc.  Concerted efforts for sustainability and augmentation of ground-water resources in the NCT of Delhi through aquifer recharge, rainwater harvesting, etc. are being made. These measures will not only help in the sustainability of groundwater resources but would help in augmentation of groundwater resources. It is estimated that about 113 MGD of additional groundwater would be available in addition to the present availability of 90 MGD, progressively within about 30 months. This includes;

Delhi Jal Board has also taken initiatives for augmentation of surface-water resources for Delhi. While augmentation of groundwater resources are in the hands of Delhi only, the outcome of initiatives/proposals for augmentation of the river water resources by Delhi is entirely dependent on cooperation and constructive collaboration from the neighbouring states and the Centre. These include;

(a) MoU with Himachal Pradesh: An MoU has been signed between the Himachal Pradesh and NCT of Delhi on December 20, 2019, for the usage of the unutilized share of Himachal Pradesh in its Yamuna Water allocation, by Delhi. Availability to Delhi will be dependent on the quantum of the unutilized component of Yamuna Water allocated to Himachal Pradesh, which is to the tune of 368 cusecs (198 MGD) from November to February and 268 cusecs (144 MGD) from March to June. Availability to Delhi will also be dependent on the conveyance system and matter has already taken up with the Upper Yamuna River Board for facilitating the release of additional water to Delhi in terms of the aforesaid MoU. Haryana has also been requested for the conveyance of this additional water to Delhi through their canal system. A positive and constructive approach from Haryana will greatly help Delhi in resolving the issue of water shortage in the capital. Further, DJB has proposed to set up a new 50 MGD WTP at Dwarka in anticipation of additional availability of Yamuna Water as per the MoU.

(b) Discharge of High Quality Treated Effluent in the River Yamuna at Palla and its reclamation at Wazirabad as Raw Water Source: Approval has been sought from Upper Yamuna River Board (UYRB) for the discharge of 70 MGD high quality treated effluent from Coronation Pillar Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) in the river Yamuna at Palla, which will be reclaimed at Wazirabad Barrage for utilization as a raw water source for further treatment and production of potable water. 

(c) Raw Water from Uttar Pradesh: Delhi Jal Board has taken up an ambitious water exchange proposal with the Irrigation Department of Uttar Pradesh for the supply of 140 MGD of river water for drinking water needs of Delhi, in place of supply of adequately treated effluent of high-quality parameters by Delhi to Uttar Pradesh for their irrigation water requirements. UP Irrigation Department (EE Meerut Division Ganga Canal Meerut) had engaged a Consultant to prepare the feasibility report for this project, which has been received. The matter is being actively pursued with the Government of UP for entering into an MoU with Government of Delhi to bring this pioneering water exchange initiative to fruition. 

(d) Upstream Storages on River Yamuna: Delhi is pursuing early and time-bound implementation of three upstream storages on river Yamuna and its tributaries namely, Renukaji Dam, Lakhwar Dam and Kishau Dam, which have been declared as National Projects. Delhi has paid Rs 214.84 crores to Himachal for Renukaji Dam Project and has agreed to bear 90 percent of the cost of power component in this project. Delhi has also contributed 50 percent of its proportionate contribution towards seed money i.e. Rs 7.79 crore and Rs 8.1 crore for Lakhwar and Kishau Dam project respectively.

Sir, DJB is working on extracting additional 25 MGD of water from Palla floodplains by installing 200 tube wells. Please throw some light on the project? How is this floodwater harvesting project beneficial to resolve Delhi’s water crisis?

Presently, DJB is extracting about 22-25 MGD of groundwater from the Palla flood plains. 200 additional tube-wells are proposed to be installed in the Palla flood plains to augment the availability of water to Delhi at an estimated cost of about Rs 80 crore. On commissioning of these additional tube-wells, a total of about 50 MGD of water would be available including that from the existing Ranney wells and tube-wells. Tenders for the work have already been invited and work is targeted to be completed in 18 months period after it is awarded.    

To increase the sustainability of groundwater resources from the Yamuna flood plain in the stretch from Palla to Wazirabad Barrage, I & FC Department, GNCT Delhi has envisaged the creation of water bodies/reservoirs in a total area of about 502.42 hectares. As a Pilot Project, a recharge water body/reservoir has been created in the Yamuna flood plain in Palla region in consultation with the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB). This recharge pond will enable enhanced percolation of high floodwater and help recharge the groundwater resources in the Yamuna flood plain between the stretches from Palla to Wazirabad. The water body already created is located between west riverbank of Yamuna and Tie Bund at Sungerpur in the Palla region and have an area of about 25 acres with depth varying from 1.50 m to 2.50 m. This project has an enormous potential to augment groundwater resources and facilitate sustainable extraction of sub-surface water to meet the demand-supply gap of potable water in the city.

Kindly throw some light on how groundwater levels in the capital can be regained. What methods, apart from rainwater harvesting can probably pose an effective solution?

Delhi has limited access to groundwater resources due to its small geographical area. The problem is compounded by the fact that most districts of Delhi fall in the over-stressed category in terms of groundwater levels. Apart from the implementation and promotion of rainwater harvesting, initiatives have been taken for the sustainability of groundwater resources in Delhi. These include measures, such as the utilization of treated effluent for irrigation/ horticulture/gardening/ thermal power plants etc. (about 89 MGD), induced Ground-water Recharge in Yamuna flood plains at Palla during monsoons, the revival of existing water bodies and creation of  New water bodies/lakes, etc.  

DJB has taken up the initiative for the revival of 155 Water Bodies even though none of these is owned by the Board. DJB will also be creating New Water bodies/lakes at its vacant lands at Timarpur oxidation ponds, Dwarka WTP/Pappan Kalan STP, Najafgarh, Rohini & Nilothi WWTPs. Good quality treated effluent will be utilized in these water bodies for groundwater recharge. Works on the revival of 22 water bodies are in progress and work for 24 more water bodies are being awarded and will commence soon.

Besides that, 95 Water Bodies are also being rejuvenated by I&FC Department, GNCTD, which includes water body at Rajokari. Also, part of wastewater flowing in Ghogha Drain has been trapped and after treatment through SWAB (Scientific Wetland with Active Biodegradation) Technology – Phytorid Technology, treated effluent is being used in the nearby water body after further filtration for groundwater recharge.

What will be the way forward for sustainable water management and water conservation in a metro city like Delhi, the second most populous in the world?

In addition to the abovementioned initiatives for sustainable water management and water conservation, DJB has already installed 2848 bulk flow meters in its Primary and Secondary distribution system and is in process of installing 481 more meters for water auditing, rationalization and equitable distribution of water.

To reduce leakage losses, works on replacement of old/damaged water pipeline network, replacement of outage house service connections etc. are undertaken from time to time for revamping of water supply distribution network. Entire DJB network is also proposed to be sub-divided in District Metered Areas (DMA). Work on 82 DMAs in three PPP Projects under the command areas of Nangloi WTP, Malviya Nagar UGR and in Mahraulli-Vasant Vihar are in progress. About 330 DMAs are proposed to be taken up under the command of Chandrawal and Wazirabad WTPs. Another about 600 DMAs have been included in six packages and Consultants have been engaged to prepare the DPR for the formation of DMAs. This will address the issue of Non-Revenue Water and reduction in physical losses of water in the distribution system and will result in improved availability of water to the consumers for the given supply. Our concerted approach would be to bring down NRW well below the threshold limit of 15 percent.

Delhi Jal Board has taken many initiatives in promoting utilization of treated effluent for a variety of non-potable uses, to replace the dependence on potable water and facilitate water conservation. DJB has installed filling points for treated effluent at its 16 STPs located across Delhi. The land-owning agencies can use treated effluent for watering their parks. Other government departments owning parks and gardens are being pursued to utilize treated effluent and close their tube wells meant for such purposes. In a recent development, the DJB has decided to give treated effluent for irrigation purposes, groundwater recharge and recharging water bodies free of cost. The necessary infrastructure for conveying treated effluent from the STPs of Delhi Jal Board will be laid and maintained by the beneficiary organizations.Quenching Thirst of Millions DJB managing Delhi’s Water Demands

Decentralized WWTPs may also be set up by tapping the generated sewage within the building premises for utilization of the adequately treated effluent for flushing, AC cooling towers, bus/train washing, gardening and other non-potable purposes or in case of big parks from the manholes of nearby DJB sewerage network. 90 percent rebate in Sewer Maintenance Charges (sewer maintenance charges are levied at 60 percent of water bills and therefore gets reduced to six percent) is given for installation of decentralized STPs and use of adequately treated effluent for non-potable water purposes like horticulture, flushing, etc. This is in addition to the 15 percent rebate in water bills on having both Rain Water Harvesting and decentralized STPs/WWTP.

DJB endeavour is to provide equitable distribution of water to the citizens of Delhi and to meet their 24×7 demand of potable water continuously at an adequate pressure. For this we are augmenting our potable water production, revamping water supply distribution infrastructure including the formation of DMAs, reducing non-revenue water including minimizing physical loss of precious potable water through leakages. Numbers of measures have already been initiated and more will be taken up progressively in a time-bound measure at an accelerated pace for achieving the objectives.

Because of the limited availability of water, the participative approach of the citizens in conservation and judicious utilization of water is need of the hour, along with concerted efforts by Delhi Jal Board. 

We will continue with IEC programs with much more sustained basis to enlighten the noble citizens of Delhi to come forward and optimize their daily water consumption, reduce wastage, eliminate water-wasteful practices from their daily routine, educate their family members and friends on the imperative of water and actively associate in water conservation measures. Each of us has to understand that “Water is Precious-Every Drop Counts” and “, Reduce, Re-use, Conserve” is the necessity of the time.

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