This World Water Day, I thought to share my thoughts on the issues of water in India – what have I understood regarding this? Have we really reached the point of crisis in the urban water supply? What are the underlying factors or root causes for this? How can we address these? What role does FluxGen play in being part of the solution?
The sources of water include seawater, and freshwater, which includes surface water – like lakes and rivers, and groundwater – like that extracted from borewells. Only freshwater, which accounts for 2% of the world’s water, is suitable for human consumption and production needs. Seawater is highly saline and needs desalination to be fit for human needs. This is a very expensive process and results in serious ecological imbalances as highly concentrated saltwater re-enters marine ecosystems. So, for all practical purposes, we are dependent on the 2% fresh water for human needs.
Agriculture in India is the largest user of water overall – over 80 percent – but we should not allow this fact to blind us to the urban water crisis. The human population is not distributed uniformly – it is concentrated in cities. Water for human use and consumption is further not identical to agricultural water and requires several treatment processes – sedimentation, filtration, disinfection, and storage to name a few. It also has a higher energy “cost” than agricultural water. Water consumption in cities must therefore be seen through this lens. We must clearly understand that available water in cities is limited despite it being a fraction of the total water used in India.
The unfolding climate crisis further exacerbates water-related issues. As a consequence of carbon-intensive industrialization, global temperatures have steadily increased at their fastest rates in millions of years, leading to a disturbance of normal water cycles of evaporation and condensation. This results, paradoxically, in both droughts and flooding, as well as other extreme events. With fewer rainy days in a year and a greater concentration of rainfall on those days, there is less percolation of water into the ground in cities, leading to dropping groundwater levels. Further, climate change is causing glaciers to melt, leading to concerns that meltwater volume will abruptly decrease after a few decades once glacial storage is reduced.
Water is also a shared resource. Everyone, no matter their wealth or status, deserves an equitable share of available water for reasonable human consumption and needs. Water, therefore, has a very strong linkage to issues of social equity, especially so in a country like India that strives to adhere to democratic norms. Equity is also a key principle of sustainable development.
Industrial Water Use
The ‘cost’ associated with water to the economy and industries has increased drastically over the past decade. It has been estimated that water insecurities could reduce between 2-4 percent of GDP in developing countries.
In India, utility water typically costs more than Rs. 70 (US$ 1) per kilolitre. With Zero-Liquid Discharge (ZLD) regulations, the costs of water recycling can increase by a factor of 3. There is further a cost associated with pumping, purifying, and safely disposing of water in industrial processes. When water acts as an industrial process “carrier” (of chemicals, recoverable products, and energy), there are further costs associated with thermal energy, electrical energy in processes, chemicals, and other materials. This means that considered holistically, saving a litre of water can have an economic benefit to the industry that can reach up to dozens of times the nominal utility cost. This precisely quantified cost of water varies by industry and is currently ‘under the radar’ in corporate water governance in India.
Industries are huge guzzlers of water in Indian cities. Some industries have very good water-related practices; and some have room for improvement. To bring in transparency, the government has recently (since early 2021) made it mandatory to monitor groundwater extraction and further cost it, and mandated that audits be performed in order to measure and reduce water consumption by up to 20 percent within three years. Failure to do so will attract stiff penalties, including the possibility of revoking the license to operate.
From the perspective of water as a shared resource in Indian cities, it is great that the government has brought in these new norms. The new Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) guidelines will improve accountability for groundwater extraction. What used to be a matter of industrial responsibility has now been converted into regulation, creating a level playing field. Further, with the ‘true’ cost of water drastically increasing when various factors are considered, there is an excellent opportunity for industries to become compliant while making financial gains.
As an entrepreneur in the field of sustainability, I had long sensed that regulation would become inevitable to ensure the country’s water security. Further, the cost of water in water-stressed regions is becoming a prime concern for industries. With these considerations, FluxGen entered the water tracking and conservation business nearly four years ago. We were fortunate to work with industries and commercial entities who were responsible, willing to be transparent, and who wanted to be socially responsible leaders in their fields. Companies – including Titan, Britannia, AFDL, Amazon, and Microsoft among others – were cognizant of the “true” cost of water – and chose to track their water extraction and usage and reduce wastage, even before the current regulation was introduced. Thanks to these early adopters of our solution, FluxGen has developed a well-proven water tracking and conservation system.
One of our esteemed customers is GKNM Hospital in Coimbatore. Established in 1952, this is one of the city’s most reputed hospitals. The senior management of the hospital reached out us after a referral to deploy a digital water management system to track their entire water infrastructure and reduce water consumption. We worked closely with the hospital water management team to deploy our IoT and data analytics-based water management system, AquaGen. The hospital was consequently able to reduce water consumption by more than 50,000 liters of water per day using AquaGen. The hospital also won the CII National Water Award for Excellence in Water Management (‘within the fence’ category) after deploying our solution.
The solution we provided GKNM Hospital with (in addition to 30+ other clients across 50+ sites) is exactly what the new regulation by Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) and Jal Shakti Ministry has imposed on the nation at large today. With the introduction of this regulation, you might see new companies working in other sectors striving to enter – but it will take them time to build reliable tracking and a proven water conservation technology. It took us nearly two years to perfect our own solution. The water crisis, however, cannot wait.
FluxGen as a company is ready to scale the AquaGen water management solution across the country in no time.
There are more than 70,000 hospitals in India alone. If we could deploy the GKNM Hospital solution in all of these we could save nearly 4 billion litres of water every day – equivalent to 3 times the daily water consumed by the whole of Bangalore city.
While FluxGen has a proven, reliable, solution and a strong, passionate team to solve the problem, we are looking for support. This could be through investment, adopting our solution, or partnering with us. As an Indian company, we would strive to face our water challenges by solving in India, for India. That being said, the water crisis is not a problem for India alone, and we see ourselves expanding into other water-stressed markets and geographies, including the Middle East and the US.
It is said that the word “eradicate” comes from the Latin phrase which means “to pull up by the roots”. Let us work together to “eradicate” – remove from the root causes – the water crisis in Indian cities!
Please do go through this three minute documentary as part of Evolution of Solutions series by The Better India, in association with Accenture in India, on FluxGen’s work towards Building a Water Positive World. Contact me at email@example.com to learn more about AquaGen.in and how you can support FluxGen’s mission to enable industries to measure, analyze and strategize to save water!
(Thanks to @Hari Dilip Kumar for working with me to craft this article from idea inception to research to cocreation! You can reach Hari on firstname.lastname@example.org)
Stay tuned for follow-on articles!