Thursday, September 15, 2011

Desalination: The next sweetener

India is at an exciting stage as far as the market for water and wastewater treatment is concerned. What presents a conundrum for the government is that the remarkable economic growth has presented difficulties in sharing water resources among three key sectors: agricultural, domestic, and industrial, notes Frost & Sullivan. It is apparent that balancing available water resources to meet the requirements of all three sectors is recommended in the National Water Policy 2002, as well as in the newly-drafted National Water Mission.

Estimates by the Ministry of Water Resources indicate that by year 2050, India's overall water demand will double, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 1.5 per cent. The industry segment will clock the fastest rate of demand for water at a CAGR of 4.2 percent.

High demand for water brings forth the urgent need for effective management and development of water resources using methods like inter-basin water transfers, artificial recharge of aquifers, desalinisation of brackish water, traditional water conservation practices like rainwater harvesting, good maintenance of irrigation systems, and promoting efficiency through drip/sprinklers. It is categorical to emphasise that desalination can narrow the lacunae between water demand and supply.

Middle Eastern countries which are officially labeled as waterstressed with per capita renewable water resources much below the critical level of 1,000 cubic metres (Cu. M), have successfully applied the desalination technology. India's water issues are, to a large extent, manmade due to excessive withdrawal of ground and surface water without any regulatory policy, pollutants contaminating the available water resources, and inefficient irrigation mechanisms. Today, the Middle East, with about 30 million Cu. M/day, represents about half of the world's installed capacities for desalination. India's share in the world stands at mere 450,000-500,000 Cu. M/day, but the country has potential to garner a much larger share of the global desalination capacity in the next 10 years.

Growth of desalination plants in India is expected to gain pace, if the local and state governments implement appropriate action plans by leveraging funding from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. Desalination should be a major plank if the objectives enshrined under India's National Water Mission are to be met in toto. To have maximum impact, the government has identified guidelines to develop robust public-private partnerships and offered monetary incentives to states and urban local bodies. Another strategy on the table was to offer tax breaks to industrial users for saving water. A policy such as this is long overdue in India. It could boost the market for recycle and reuse technologies like membrane bioreactors and desalination, as the ultimate goal is to reduce dependence on fragile and dwindling ground water and surface water resources.

The government can also contemplate issuing tradable certificates, akin to carbon emission reduction credits, so that industries saving water can sell their certificates to industries consuming more water

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