Closing the Water Loop: Reuse of Treated Wastewater in Urban India

Increasing population and mismanagement have led to acute water stress in most Indian cities. According to the latest census, only 70 percent of urban households have access to piped water supply. The average per capita supply to these households is well below the recommended 135 litres per day in many cities.

With their greater energy and water demand, the rising number of industries and power plants have aggravated water shortages. Industries in and around metros such as Chennai, Bengaluru, and Delhi, have led to acute water shortages which in turn has driven up the cost of fresh water production and increased taxes imposed on industrial water.

To ease the severity of water shortage, innovative alternatives to fresh water are necessary. One alternative is the reuse of treated wastewater 
or reclaimed water. Reuse of treated wastewater is popular in many water-starved cities across the globe. Singapore’s success in using treated wastewater (referred to as NEWater) for industrial supply is a good case in point and is relevant to the discussion on water supply and reuse of treated wastewater in India.

With a focus on companies as end users of reclaimed water, this paper explores how India can ensure the viability and sustainability of its wastewater reuse plants.

Sound policies and regulatory interventions by both the central and state governments are essential for the development of India’s wastewater sector.

The Indian government should focus on promoting the use of reclaimed water, and one way to do this is to incentivise to companies that will choose to use treated wastewater.

There is also a need for the government to prevent industries from overexploiting groundwater. The Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Water Resources should work toward enhancing the credibility of reclaimed water as an alternative industrial water source.

When it comes to funding necessary infrastructure development in the water sector, the Government of India may encourage public-private partnership (PPP). However, a favourable environment for PPP has to be created initially.

The long-term benefits of reusing wastewater especially for industrial purposes are worth all the efforts and investments required of the government and the water utility providers.

This summary is based on the knowledge paper Closing the water loop: Reuse of treated wastewater in urban India.

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