Water is essential for healthy and sustainable livelihood. Scarcity can disrupt social stability, economic prosperity and destroy ecosystems. Water scarcity impacts industrial growth and energy production. People’s access to clean water has a positive impact on food security, health, social and political stability. Lack of well-considered water pricing for agricultural use and energy subsidies promote over-extraction, and suboptimal matching of crops with the agro-climatic and water zones in states. Large quantity of water loss is created by waterintensive crops.
There has also been an increased emphasis on adoption of water efficient technologies, management systems, farmer education, and advisory services. India should develop an agricultural water export Index to track the amount of virtual water exported by India through trade commodities to other countries. This can enable better policy to support water sustainability.
The Water Footprint Network is an interactive tool to map the water footprint by different users and identify strategic interventions for improving water use. Scaling up micro-irrigation can increase coverage and sustainability. Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana promotes use of drip and sprinkler irrigation by farmers.
Urban regional water planning can help mitigate water risks in urban settlements. An integrated approach to land-use planning and zoning, can ensure sustainable urban development. Water shortages have disproportionate impact on the Small-toMedium Enterprise (SME) and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) segment. This can severely impact industrial production. The worst affected industries are likely to include water-intensive sectors such as food and beverages, textiles, and paper and paper products.
Industrial water-use can be optimized by introducing caps on water consumption by each user. Water-intensive industries ought not to be permitted in water-scarce regions. A water permit system can restrict water entitlements to industries annually which can be traded like the water market system in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin. Such a system can cover the industrial wastewater. Water management practices can be incentivized by policy interventions. ESG compliance checks by banks can encourage sustainable use amongst the companies needing external funding for operations. ESG compliance checks for projects can ensure effective initiatives into practice. Indian banks can use predefined algorithm to raise red flags in case water availability in the region and conduct regular portfolio analysis for Environment and Risk management.
Thermal power constitutes more than 83 per cent of India’s total power generation in 2016. An estimated 90 per cent of thermal power plants in India rely on freshwater sources for cooling. About 40 per cent of India’s thermal power plants are in waterscarce regions. Energy shortages due to thermal power shutdowns can impact businesses and slow down economic growth. MoEFCC introduced mandatory limits on their water consumption. Diversifying energy sources to include renewable energy can help India mitigate the energy crisis. Shifting to alternatives such as solar and wind energy can reduce dependence on water for energy production. The government has set targets for renewable energy to 175 Giga Watts by 2022. The new thermal power plants should be set up away from water-scarce regions.
There is need to improve the water-use efficiency amongst the existing thermal plants through modern technologies. As an example, NTPC promotes water conservation. Apart from adoption of water efficient technologies for operations and production, NTPC is using desalination plants and floating Solar PV systems. Desalination plants can create additional sources of water for human use. The floating Solar PV systems can reduce the natural rate of evaporation.
As India’s water crisis worsens, environmental damage will intensify leading to serious harm to the country’s biodiversity, and ecological balance. Red flags have already been raised over the cumulative impact of climate change, increasing temperatures, and change in hydrology due to dams and river diversion. Sedimentation and reduction in nutrients carried by the rivers can be altered by linking rivers. Flora and fauna thrive on water resources. Impact on biodiversity manifests in changing migration patterns, decline and extinction of species, destruction of biodiversity hotspots due to human activities. The Western Ghats, the Himalayas, and the North-East have many hotspots with threatened species and ecosystem. Six dams on the Kali River in the Western Ghats of India have decreased the forest cover from 85 per cent to 55 per cent between 1973 and 2016. Its biodiversity hotspots host 325 and 190 species of flora and fauna, respectively. Environmental impacts cam be reduced by policy intervention. Incorporation of economic value of biodiversity in planning is a necessary step. Smaller projects in more locations can be encouraged rather than a large project. The environmental footprint of smaller projects might be lower compared to a large project.
Adapting approaches to restore ecological balance have yielded results globally. The USMexico Colorado river agreement led to collaboration by the two nations in reducing the environmental impact of Colorado river’s natural flow. Conservation groups in the region have undertaken tree plantation to re-establish habitats and support resuscitation of the bird population and wildlife in the region. Nearly 30 per cent of India’s land is impacted by desertification and land degradation.
Water management can reduce desertification. Extensive groundwater extraction contributes to loss of vegetation cover leading to desertification and land degradation. Decline in the land’s capacity to recharge groundwater tables and water erosion and surface run-off are the major factors behind desertification in India. Degraded land is acquired for infrastructure and construction projects. Land degradation can also cause up to 4 per cent losses in Agricultural Gross Domestic Product. Afforestation scientifically can lead to the right mix of flora, increase in green cover and groundwater rejuvenation. China’s ‘Great Green Wall’ initiative is a great example of tackling desertification. China planted 66 billion trees and reduced sandstorms by 20 per cent and desertification by nearly 5,000 miles.
The National Water Mission (NWM) and the NAPCC launched in 2009 represent a nationwide effort to tackle climate change. Various Advisory Boards, High-level Steering Committees, Technical Committees and Secretariats are set up to run the Mission.
Six Sub-committees set up under the Mission for policy and institutional Framework, surface water, ground water, domestic and industrial water management, efficient use of water, basin-level planning and management.
Enactment of necessary legislation by the state governments is part of the strategy. Comprehensive water data base in the public domain, water resources information system, impact of climate change on water resources will be available for policy formulation and execution of projects. Intensive rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge programme cover over-exploited, critical and semicritical blocks.
Water use efficiency will have to be enhanced by incentivizing for recycling of water including wastewater. Mandatory water audit for drinking water purpose, review of financing policy and allocations and promotion of basin level integrated water resources management are significant steps.
Guidelines for uses of water for irrigation, drinking, industrial use along with review of National Water Policy and adoption of a revised policy will help to mitigate water stress in rural and urban areas. Inter-sectoral groups were constituted by combining resources from relevant ministries, industry, academia and civil society.
(To be concluded)