Thursday, June 9, 2011

Evaporation, Catchment, Re-Run: Part 1

In our initial conversations with Sarvajal managers, we learned that each franchise location discards 3000-5000 liters of reject water (RO brine) per day.

On an industrial scale, this may not seem like a lot, but when you’re thinking of growing local operations in a water-stressed region it starts to add up. It makes a compelling case for conservation for conservation’s sake and it also reveals an opportunity for proactive business adaptation strategy. Not only is it in Survival’s best interest to conserve the supply of fresh water available in underwater aquifers, there may also be financial pay-offs down the road for maximizing capacity for efficient resource use today.

As it stands, the existing incentive structure does not lend itself to efficient or sustainable water use. Well water is free to franchisees and there are no restrictions on withdrawing or discarding unused water. However, Sarvajal franchisees do pay for energy and maintenance. Given that running reverse osmosis machines at their highest efficiency both increases wear and tear and energy consumption, inefficient water use makes good business sense… for now.

But business-sense aside, Sarvajal recognizes the social imperatives to use communal resources as responsibly as possible. Our challenge is to find ways to encourage and enable more conservative water use that will not raise operating costs for Sarvajal’s franchisees.

One possible approach to this challenge is to find ways to use reject water from Sarvajal’s operations in a complimentary business venture. Running public toilets, kiln cooling or aquaculture operations with the brine may generate additional income for entrepreneurs which would shift the incentive structure all together. However, these options each require launch an entirely new business. Where barriers to launching a complimentary business venture are prohibitive, there may be another option to recover and utilize as much water as possible under current Sarvajal operations: evaporation, catchment and rerun of the reject water.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Laundry solution

The RO Brine could potentially be re-used to do laundry. In rural areas, the large quantity of brine can be used in a communal laundry facility. The brine could be pumped to any existing communal laundry location in the village/ town, and if such a facility does not exist, any empty piece of land close to the franchisee could be made into one. The benefits of this would not just be the re-use of the reject brine, but also reduction in the use of virgin groundwater for laundry. This could also be a moneymaking venture for the franchisee. If the people are charged for the water they use every-day, then this brine could be provided at a lower cost to the users for laundry. Another advantage of this solution would be that it would serve as a communal gathering for the women, and thereby provide social benefits. Even in urban-areas the reject brine could be used in Laundromats, either owned by the franchisee or pumped to an external Laundromat close by.

The problem with this idea is the effect the brine would have on clothes. When used with regular laundry detergent, the RO brine does not let it foam much. When in Rajasthan, we intend to do some water quality testing and also physically test if the reject affects the quality of the clothes. Another barrier to this solution could be objection from the end users. This is something we will learn more about by interacting with them when we are on the field.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Public Restroom Facility: One Possible Solution

When brainstorming possible uses for the reverse osmosis (RO) brine, one of the first ideas we came up with was to use the brine in place of water in a public restroom facility. This solution could easily use brine to flush human waste and it would provide a hygienic method of storing the waste- improving public health in the community. In order to make this solution economically viable, it would be a good idea to incorporate a “pay-per-use” system at this facility. Local residents would be familiar with this system because it is a similar one used at Sarvajal franchisee locations and it would create an economic opportunity for another local resident.

Being a more socially minded person, I started my research with the current practices and cultural norms of the region and how these norms would affect the ultimate physical structure of the facility. Currently, in most rural areas of India there is no central water or waste infrastructure and open defecation around the villages (often in nearby fields) is common. This poses obvious risks to public health, especially considering India’s rapidly growing population. It became apparent that any public restroom facility would need to be accompanied with an educational program on how to use the facility and why it is needed, because residents may never have seen any such facility.

A critical consideration is the social stigma associated with removing and handling human waste. It is a job only performed by the lowest castes of Indian society. Our group recognized this as a potential barrier to implementation, but since we did not know which of the 100+ Sarvajal locations we would be working at, we did not yet know the exact social dynamics of the villages. No resolution for dealing with this stigma was determined, but it was left open for further consideration and development once more site-specific information was obtained.

Another important societal norm I discovered was the need for women to preserve their modesty in all situations. Since the only place available to relieve oneself was outside, this often meant that women had to wake up before sun rise or wait until sunset to relieve themselves, in order to avoid being seen in a revealing position. In order to accommodate modesty concerns, a public restroom facility would need to have two rooms (one for each gender), doors, and a roof.

The need for privacy, and therefore an enclosed space, made the next task of how to eliminate foul smelling odors crucial. I did not want to incorporate a ventilation system because I wanted to keep the cost down in hopes of making this solution scalable to multiple franchisee locations. After researching a variety of public restroom facility designs, I choose a system with a holding tank below ground. In a holding tank containing brine, the waste would be below the surface of the brine, foul odors would be greatly reduced; increasing the likelihood that such a facility would actually be used.

This research into structural design also lead me to a system known as “pour-flush” system. After a person uses the facility they would turn on a faucet to fill a bucket with water (or in our facility with brine) and then pour it into the hole to flush the waste down into the holding tank. This method seemed the most practical because it would ensure that brine was always present in the holding tank. It was also very simple to construct and use; it would not require a lot of technical maintenance.

My next step was to review the water quality to make sure that any contact with the brine during the pour-flush process would be safe. Around this time, our group held a solutions symposium with some engineering students to get technical feedback on our solution designs. One student mentioned that my design seemed to be on the right track, but that I needed to check to see if our brine contained sulfates. When sulfates come into contact with organic material (such as human waste) it reacts to form hydrogen sulfide. Concentrations as low as 0.00047 ppm create the typical “rotten egg” odor, 50-100 ppm can cause damage to the eyes and if the concentration reaches 320-530 ppm pulmonary edema becomes likely and death can occur (USEPA). After the symposium I checked the water quality data sent to our group by Sarvajal- almost every franchisee location has sulfate in their ground water; which would ultimately be concentrated in the brine after the reverse osmosis process.

Upon learning this information, it was determined that further research and development on this solution should be suspended. While I still believe that a public restroom facility would have a profound impact in the village(s), given the potential chemical reactions this solution is not feasible to pilot test with current technology and budget restraints.

Works Cited

USEPA. (1980). Health and Environmental Effects Profile for Hydrogen Sulfide p.118-8. ECAO-CIN-026A

A 'basket' of solutions

Looking into reusing or reducing the reject brine from reverse osmosis, mainly in rural India as well as a few urban centers, for our client, Piramal Water Private Limited, our team brainstormed to come up with a number of creative as well as technical solutions. Each solution we came up with was evaluated based on practical considerations (scalability, viability, short-term feasibility, suitability), economic considerations (cost effectiveness, added economic value) and social considerations (community value and cultural sensitivity).

Under a business as usual scenario, the RO system is run at approximately 40% and the brine is discarded to either evaporate or recharge into the water table. This solution would not add any economic or social value and would contribute to environmental degradation.

The reject brine could potentially be used for laundry purposes by piping it to a communal laundry facility in rural areas or used in a commercial laundromat in urban settings. This would depend on the contents of the brine and the effect it would have on clothes. This is a solution we propose to pilot test.

Another idea looks at using the reject brine in a public restroom facility. It would add immense social value, especially in rural areas, but various social and cultural norms would have to be studied as well as the contents of the brine to understand the feasibility of this solution as well as the laundry idea.

A potential revenue generating solution that we came up with is using the brine for Aquaponics, which is essentially combining the technology of aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating produce in water). Initial investment costs might be a hurdle for this solution.

Bioaccumulation is a potential solution to clean the reject brine. Certain plants that can bio-accumulate pollutants can be grown in the brine and the cleaned water can be re-used for other purposes or even re-run through the RO again. A major hurdle for this is to find plants that would accumulate salt. We are looking at the feasibility of pilot testing this idea.

Our most promising idea is evaporation of the brine to harvest salt. Incorporating water reclamation into the evaporation system would enable using the reclaimed water to cut the additional brine for re-run. This is another solution we intend to pilot test.

The brine could also be used for beautification/ landscaping, to develop a small garden/ park in the village or outside the franchisee outlet. This would involve investment by the franchisees, for which they might not be willing.

A solution to treat the RO brine is by infiltration to a treatment wetland, including native plants where possible. The brine would get treated as it percolates back to the ground water table. This would improve groundwater quality compared to business as usual but involves capital costs to set up, for which the willingness of the client would be needed.

The technical solution our team is looking at is further treatment through Capacitive Deionization. It is a process the removes salts and minerals from water by applying an electric field between two porous electrodes. It has been utilized along with biologically activated carbon to further treat RO brine with up to 90% reductions in total dissolved solids concentrations. Again the capital costs associated do not make this a feasible solution for our client.

Testing the brine for its contents, understanding the social and cultural norms of the locals which would lead to acceptance of any pilots and willingness of the franchisees to invest in the solutions are some of the issues we will be looking to further research in July/ August, 2011 when our team visits franchisees of Piramal Water Private Limited in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Water Availability in Rajasthan

Our University of Michigan team will be spending the majority of our travel time in the state of Rajasthan, where most of the Sarvajal franchisees are located. As a first step in this project, I did some preliminary research on the water availability in Rajasthan.

Rajasthan is a land locked state of west India on the border of Pakistan. Most of the region is arid or semi-arid, receiving all of its 20-23 inches of rain a year in less than 30 days in the form of monsoons (Central Groundwater Board 2010, Rathore 2005). Not only is Rajasthan the most arid state in the country with low amount of surface water, but the surface water that is available is frequently so polluted that it is unusable (Bhawan 2009, World Bank 2005). Sewage and industry effluent are the two primary polluters of surface water in the region (Bhawan 2009). Given the low quantity and quality of surface water in Rajasthan, most of the state obtains its water from groundwater sources.

Groundwater is the source of 90% of domestic water and 71% of water used in irrigation (Rathore 2005). The government’s ability to provide water to the people of Rajasthan is limited in extent and sporadic in flow and quality (World Bank 2005, Bhawan 2009). As a result, private tubewells have sprung up all over the region and are the only source of water used by industry, and are the preferred choice for all farms and families who can afford it (World Bank 2005).

With 70% of the Rajasthan population making a living through farming, the water needs of the agricultural sector dominates Rajasthan’s water politics (Bhawan 2009). In the 40 years between 1961 and 2001, 1.4 million agricultural tubewells were built in the state of Rajasthan and the pace of construction has only increased since then (Birkenholtz 2006). In that same period of time, total irrigated land has increased 128% with irrigation using 83% of total water resources of the state (Bhawan 2009).

These tubewells have increased access to water, attracting businesses, increasing the productivity of the land, and raising the quality of life for Rajasthan’s growing populations (World Bank 2005, Birkenholtz 2006, Sengupta 2006). While increased access to water has meant good things for Rajasthan’s people, it has been bad news for its aquifers. The Groundwater board of Rajasthan estimates that current withdrawal rates are 25% above recharge rates (Groundwater Board of Rajasthan 2006) The average water table has declined in all 28 districts of Rajasthan and has fallen as much as 12.93 meters in some cases (Bhawan 2009). A staggering 80% of groundwater wells in Rajasthan are over exploited (Click here for a New York Times map depicting water scarcity in India) (Sengupta 2006). As water becomes harder to find and harder to extract, farmers, businessmen, and families have been forced to dig more and deeper wells in order to preserve their way of life (Birkenholtz 2006).

Works Cited

Bhawan, S., Marg, J.L.N. (2009). “Environmental Management Guidelines of Action Plan of SWRPD for Water Sector in Rajasthan.” The Government of Rajasthan: State Water Resources Planning Department.

Birkenholtz, Trevor (2006). “The Politics of Groundwater Scarcity: Technology, Institutions, and Governance in Rajasthani Irrigation.” Ohio State University Dissertation.

Central Groundwater Board. (2010). "State Profile Rajasthan." Accessed April 2, 2011

Central Ground Water Board. Accessed April 4, 2011.

Parsai, Gargi (2005). “Water Ministry seeks World Bank funding for reforms.” The Hindu, January 14, 2005.

Rathore, M.S. (2005). “Groundwater Exploration and Augmentation efforts in Rajasthan.” Institute of Development Studies.

Sengupta, Somini (2006)). India Digs Deeper, but Wells are Drying Up. New York Times, September 30, 2006.

Water Regulation in Rajasthan

As further background for our work and trip in India, I attempted to understand the basics of how water was regulated in Rajasthan, both on the community and legal level.

The World Bank has divvied India’s history of water management into three eras. First, there is the Pre- 1850 era marked by small scale citizen water management, rain fed agriculture, and only minimal state involvement in water projects. Second, came the era between 1850 and 1970 marked by heavy state involvement in water development and large declines in local water management and citizen involvement. Lastly, the World Bank described the era between 1970 and 2005 as the era of declining state involvement in water projects (due to decline in public funding of water management), and considerable citizen investments in tubewells (World Bank 2005). When the state entered the groundwater sphere in 1850, central organization replaced small scale and local water management practices. When the state then ceased to play a large role in water development, a void was created where neither local nor central water management schemes existed. Since the time of State control over groundwater, the population (and thus the demand on water) has increased significantly and the responsibility of making decisions about water resources has shifted from the shoulders of the central government to a diverse multitude of individuals making decisions entirely independently of one another.

For all practical purposes, there is no formal groundwater regulation in Rajasthan or the rest of India. As the New York Times wrote in a 2006 story on water scarcity in India, "Indian law has virtually no restrictions on who can pump groundwater, how much and for what purpose. Anyone, it seems, can — and does — extract water as long as it is under his or her patch of land. That could apply to homeowner, farmer or industry" (Sengupta 2006). The central Indian government has no authority to regulate water resources in the country, all power to regulate water lies with the states (Sengupta 2006). Only three of the 28 states have enacted laws regulating use, extraction, or pollution of groundwater, and of those three, none have implemented or enforced the regulations (Birkenholtz 2006).

While the central Indian government does not have the authority to regulate water, they have begun to pass “model bills” on groundwater for the states to emulate. For example, in 2002 they passed the Model National Water Policy and in 2005 they passed the Model Bill to Regulate and Control the Development and Management of Groundwater (Birkenholtz 2005). Multi-lateral Institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have taken notice of the situation and offered funding attached to requirements for changes to water management (Birkenholtz 2006). For example, the World Bank in 2005 announced they would up their funding of water projects in India from $200 million annually to $900 million annually to incentivize change in India’s water management, specifically incentivizing that adoption of transferable water rights and the establishment of a regulating body for groundwater (World Bank 2005).

In response to mounting pressure and the World Bank’s incentives, Rajasthan’s legislative body passed the 2006 Groundwater Rational Use and Management Act (Central Ground Water Board). However, this act has been under review by the Special Committee since that time, and has yet to be brought into force and is still considered to be in “Draft Form” (Central Groundwater Board) (Bhawan 2009). While the bill has not been enacted to date, the fact that it passed the legislative body of Rajasthan is a huge step towards groundwater management in the region. Furthermore, while the act itself may not yet bear the weight of authority, it still has laid the framework for progress in groundwater management in the region.

The World Bank has pointed to the lack of clear water rights as one of the biggest obstacles preventing strong water regulation in India (World Bank 2005). The lack of clear rights has fuelled water grabs between and within states in India. These “water grabs” have led to over extraction of the precious resource, in many cases beyond what is actually needed. Furthermore, this jockeying for control over water has developed into bloody conflict in many cases (World Bank 2005). The Water Ministry of India described the situation of water disputes in India as proliferation of small “civil wars” across the country between individuals and communities (Parsai 2005). While establishing water rights where none have historically existed is a daunting and politically and socially messy task, the World Bank has argued that it would not only facilitate groundwater regulation, but would likely lead to conservation of the resource and a reduction in violence spurred by water disputes.

Works Cited

Bhawan, S., Marg, J.L.N. (2009). “Environmental Management Guidelines of Action Plan of SWRPD for Water Sector in Rajasthan.” The Government of Rajasthan: State Water Resources Planning Department.

Birkenholtz, Trevor (2006). “The Politics of Groundwater Scarcity: Technology, Institutions, and Governance in Rajasthani Irrigation.” Ohio State University Dissertation.

Central Groundwater Board. (2010). "State Profile Rajasthan." Accessed April 2, 2011

Central Ground Water Board. Accessed April 4, 2011.

Parsai, Gargi (2005). “Water Ministry seeks World Bank funding for reforms.” The Hindu, January 14, 2005.

Rathore, M.S. (2005). “Groundwater Exploration and Augmentation efforts in Rajasthan.” Institute of Development Studies.

Sengupta, Somini (2006)). India Digs Deeper, but Wells are Drying Up. New York Times, September 30, 2006.