Monday, July 25, 2011


After a long bus ride to Delhi we surprised Caitlin and Lilly at the hotel! (They thought we weren't meeting until Sunday!)
We took a couple days off from the project to see the sights in Delhi.

Vaishnavi and Meredith met us in Agra (after Merediths very delayed flight!) We were finally all together as a group!

A day trip to the Taj Mahal proudly displaying our Michigan pride- Go Blue!

After taking in the sights, it wasn't long before our conversation turned to Sarvajal. We even had a very productive "train meeting" on our way back to Delhi!

Monday in Delhi making sure we had any supplies we can't get in Bagar (like toilet paper and granola bars!)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Data, data and more data

This morning we checked on our clothes washed in brine and our clothes washed in municipal water and we haven't noticed any great difference. This is consistent with what we've been hearing from franchisees and local dhobis.

At the office, we spent the morning mulling over our ideas and getting into more in depth research.

We've mentioned this before (see our post from July 16th), but Sarvajal has a sophisticated real-time data management system that draws 12 points of data from almost every franchise. We spent some more time mulling over the data this morning, particularly for the franchises we have visited thus far. The amount of data Sarvajal has collected is extensive- we are mostly interested in the TDS levels and quantities of brine being produced. It seems like everything we want to know is there- we just need to start making sense of it!

We are headed to Delhi this weekend with a long To-Do list. We've contacted some plant nurseries about native plants that might be tolerant of salty soils and we hope to do a little plant shopping before our return to Bagar. We're also planning to visit the "Toilet Museum" and talk to some location NGOs about waste water treatment and the viability of using brine to flush toilets. We may also visit some pet shops to talk fish (regarding the aquaculture idea.) and pick up a few supplies we haven't been able to find in Bagar or Jhunjhunu.

These last two weeks its been myself (Kate), Vaishnavi and Lauren, but by the time we get back to Bagar next week we'll have doubled in size! We can't wait for our other teammates- Lilly, Caitlin and Meredith- to arrive! See you guys soon!

A day at the office...

After fixing our evaporation pond (we got some heavier gauge plastic!)...

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

...we headed to the office for a day of research (and rest!). The heat today is pretty unbearable. We’ve even contemplated buying ice cream from the street cart outside, even though there’s a pretty good change it might make us sick.

Days at the office doing research are slow. It always sounds like a good idea after a day in the field, but we lose steam after lunch and struggle to stay productive – but a little afternoon chai from our friend ____ is a welcome sight and we press onward!

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

(The view from our office)


We checked up on our Evaporation pond on the way home. The 8 liters of brine we started with turned into about a cup of condensation. The TDS level of brine we put in this morning was 986. When we tested again this afternoon (after about 4 hours of direct sunlight), the brine was a steamy 100 degrees F and had a TDS level of 1005 and the condensate TDS level was around 105.

None of this is surprising- basic principles of evaporation- but nice to have things work out the way you think they will!


One last experiment before bed, we carted home 10 liters of brine to try using it for laundry.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

So far we're pretty impressed with the result. We did laundry with municipal water as well just to compare. Since most laundry in the areas we've been working in is done by hand, we thought it best to do the same....when in Rome!

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Jhunjhunu cluster

Between the rain and a little overnight vandalism, our second try with the evaporation experiment has been delayed.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

We suspect it was just some neighborhood kids curious about what we’re doing, but we’ve decided to take better care with putting things away at night.

We had a packed day of site visits scheduled to visit franchises in the Jhunjhunu cluster, so reconstructing the evaporation pond will have to wait until tomorrow.

We were met at the COCO this morning by Sarjeet, a member of the maintenance staff who has been with Sarvajal since the beginning. We set off on the local bus to visit two franchises and some dhobi’s (a one–man laundry service!).

Our first stop in Jhunjhunu was the laundry shop of Abdul Sattar. When there was a Sarvajal franchise in Jhunjhunu, his laundry was located next door and he used the brine for washing clothes. He has since moved his shop elsewhere and uses municipal water, but he told us about his business when he used to use the brine.

Abdul explained that not only was he happy to get the water for free (now he pays 26 Rs per month for municipal water which runs to his shop for 1 hour each day. When the water isn’t running or his 1 hour allotment of municipal water isn’t enough, he pays 150 Rs for a tanker to deliver water*), he didn’t have to use as much soap when he was using brine. The Sarvajal franchise in Jhunjhunu has since been sold and Abdul moved his shop so he no longer uses the brine, but he said he would use it again if it made sense. When he was using brine he never had any complaints from customers and felt that the clothes were just as clean as they are now with the municipal water

Excited about the prospects of the laundry idea, we set off to visit Mukhundgarh, the very first Sarvajal franchise.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

The operator wasn’t there but his father, Vidyadharji, was kind enough to show us around. They built a large cistern that they have started to fill with brine in hopes of stockpiling enough to start a plant nursery.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

The bajra farm surrounding the cistern is currently watered partly with brine and the rest just with rain (the are watered with brine being that which is closes to the machine, of course!)

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

They’ve been using brine to water part of their fields for over three years and haven’t noticed any issues or problems. (We suspect that with the levels of salt present in the brine it would take a number of years before there would be any sign of a soil salinity issue so just because they haven’t noticed anything yet doesn’t make us any less concerned that over time using brine will caused damage to the soil.)

In addition to using the brine for agricultural purposes, Vidyadharji uses it to construct concrete forms like this:

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

He hasn’t noticed any structural issues since using the brine but he’s only been doing it for about three months.

Finally we got a tour of the machine. Of all the franchises we’ve seen, this one was immaculate. We even asked if the machine was new because it looked so clean and tidy – but it’s actually the original machine that was installed when Sarvajal first started farming out the machines to franchises.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

This franchise has about 200 regular customers and they run the machine for eight hours a day. Like most of the franchises we’ve seen, they chill their water- it takes about one hour to chill 1,000 liters of water.

Most of their business is deliveries and so they have two trucks. They used to deliver water in insulated coolers, but the coolers were getting broken and there was no way to trace them back to the customer so they started a tank delivery system. Now they fill a large black tank on the back of the truck and drive around to customers filling up their water coolers on site. It takes longer, but they save money by not having to replace broken coolers.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

We’ve been trying to visit an ice making factory since we arrived thinking that as long as the water wasn’t coming into contact with unpackaged food, brine could potentially be frozen and used to make ice. Lucky for us there was an ice factory right next to Mukhundgarh so we stopped in to check it out.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

After showing us the machine room, we got a short lesson in the properties of water and salt!

Gas is cooled and run through a tank that holds salted water (lowering the freezing temperature of the water. Tall metal bins are placed in the salted water and filled will municipal.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

The salted water is rarely changed but has to be added to every so often as some water is lost moving metal bins around. They said most of their customers need ice for weddings or keeping food cold.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

Just for kicks we asked if he would consider using brine leftover from the Sarvajal franchise next door (not that Mukhundgarh has any leftover to give!) and his biggest concern was that there would be other contaminants in the water besides salt that might corrode his tank.

Our next stop was Nawalgarh, operated by Hazi Mohammad Ali.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

So far we have only seen franchises that are using their brine for something. While this is certainly helpful for providing evidence regarding what works and what doesn’t, we’ve been anxious to talk with a franchisee who isn’t using the brine. We thought we were in luck with Nawalgarh. Sarjeet was under the impression that Hazi wasn’t using the brine for much besides throwing it on a few plants in his yard. But when we arrived, Hazi showed us a garden with beans, okra, bajra, bottle gourds, egg plant and many other vegetables.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

He told us that he’s been in operation for a year and had been using brine to water his garden for 10 months. He has adjacent bajra fields but he said that the brine is only enough to water his private garden.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

When he first started he felt bad about just dumping the brine, and because he’s on a busy street, customers and passerby could see the water coming out of his building. He said that it would reflect poorly on him and his business if people thought he was wasting water so that’s when he decided to use if for his garden. Like the other franchisees we spoke to who use brine for watering plants, he hasn’t noticed any problems.

Sarvajal doesn’t have a system for tracking who is using the brine and for what purpose. While we think we’ve just been lucky to see only those franchises who are actually using the water, there maybe more franchises using it than we thought. (The estimate was that about 90% of franchises just dump the brine.) Adding a question about the use or disposal of brine to routine maintenance calls might reveal more ideas and set an expectation that the brine water is not to be wasted.

We filled up our water bottles (Hazi says that his Sarvajal water is the best water!) and headed out to catch the bus.

After this Sarjeet invited us to see his village. Once we arrived an endless stream of family members just happened “stop by.” They cooked a meal for us and, through Vaish, we talked to them about what we were doing. We got a tour of their new house, a lesson in chiapatti making and more food than we could handle. At this insistence of grandma we forced down a few extra bites until we were completely stuffed, and then she insisted on chai! It was a wonderful to feel so welcome in someone’s home – we certainly experienced Indian hospitality today. We’ve been invited back any time – they even want us to come to Sarjeet’s cousin’s wedding a few months from now. We had to decline, as we’ll all be back in Ann Arbor, but I’m not sure they would even notice us amongst the 800 guests they’re expecting to come!

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

On the way back to Bagar we stopped to see one of the local dhobis in Bagar, Omprakash. We wanted to see how he washed clothes and ask if he might consider using brine. The object wasn’t to propose any kind of business relationship at this point but to just inquire about the feasibility of it and whether or not he’d be open to the idea.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

One big thing we learned today (that Meredith had already told us!) is that we need to stop calling it “waste water.” RO brine is the most technical term. Waste water makes it sound like something that has reached the end of its useful life – it creates stigma and misconceptions – discouraging people from using it. When we spoke to Omprakash, it was clear that even though we were careful to not call it waste water, he was still suspicious about why we would want to give him the use of the brine water- Why didn’t we want it for ourselves? What were we getting out of the deal? Where’s the benefit to us?

After explaining a bit more about Sarvajal, with the help of Sarjeet, and letting him know we were students conducting research, not business people out to make a profit, he seemed to soften a little. We invited him to come to the COCO and see what he thinks – tell us if the space would be sufficient to set up a laundry facility there and what that might look like. He plans to visit on Saturday.

There is another Dhobi in Bagar that we’re hoping to talk with as well. There’s still a long way to go, but our conversation with Omprakash made us feel like this could be a viable solution, given the right conditions, that would at least make the brine useful for something. We’re still dealing with recharging contaminated water (and extra contaminated with the addition of the soap) but it’s a start!

We ended the day with some late afternoon/early evening work at the office and we’re off to bed early! It’s been a productive and eventful day!

*It’s worth taking a moment to explain the municipal water distribution system in India (as we understand it!) Basically, if you have a tap connected to the municipal water supply, you’ll pay ~26 Rs per month (that’s about $0.59 USD). You leave your tap on and every 26 hours water will flow out of it. You either have to make friends with the people who control the water (our understanding is that it’s on always on time) so you know when the water will run, or you connect a hose to some kind of holding tank that will fill up when the water comes on. Water will run for one hour every 26 hours so, basically, if you’re not there to catch it or you don’t have a tank ready to be filled, you’ll miss your chance at getting water that day. Sometimes, particularly during a drought, the water just won’t run at all and tanker trucks filled with water will make the rounds- but that costs about 150 Rs per tanker and you have to request the water and pay the driver.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Evaporation Part Two

Our day began at 6 am today (Thanks Kate for waking us up!). We got to work on building our second evaporation unit behind the COCO. We made use of a cement trough already present there and used bricks to wall one side of it to get a square of 33/33 inches. This was lined with a black plastic sheet and filled with 8L of brine water. Transparent plastic was used to catch the water getting evaporated and a bottle is placed in the center to catch the condensed (and hopefully cleaner!) water. The picture might give a better sense of what we are doing. This didn’t take too much time and by 7 am we were waiting at the office waiting for our 7:30am team meeting with the rest of our team who are still in the US. This call was about bringing them up to date of our progress in the field, and to advice them on things to get with them. They get to India this Saturday, and we will have our whole team here the next week. We’re super excited to have you guys join us!! During our siesta time (to make up for the early morning) it started to rain- 5 minutes of a lot of rain and wind caused one side of the structure to collapse. We need to work on making our evaporation unit stronger! After some lunch, we are at the office doing more research into plants and fish. We are also planning some franchisee visits tomorrow, so keep an eye out for tomorrow’s post if you want to know what other franchisees are doing with their brine!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

It’s our one week Sarvajal anniversary! We may have to order something extra tasty at dinner to celebrate. Given all the places we’ve been and the things we’ve seen; I feel like we’ve been here for a month!

Today was much more low-key compared to yesterday. We checked on our evaporation pit and checked the TDS (total dissolved solids). It went from 860 to 935 in less than one day! That means that the solids aren’t evaporating with the water- which we guessed would happen, but guessing correctly is always nice. Our next step (besides continuing to monitor the TDS of our current pit), is to build another one which catches the evaporated water so we can test the TDS of that too.

We were also able to get our peppers and our aloe vera planted! Our garden is small right now, but we’re hoping to get more plants soon. The space behind the COCO is finally starting to take shape. While planting we noticed that one of the plants had a pepper on it- we picked it and gave it to Shiv Ratan, as a small thank you for all of his help so far. In return, he gave us a stick of banana gum. It was tasty!

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

The afternoon in the office was fairly quiet, except for a small bird that kept insisting on flying into/through our office. Too bad Lilly isn't here yet, she could probably tell us what kind it is!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Experiment Set-up: Getting our Hands Dirty

There is no time for sleeping in when you’re out in the field: Kate, Vaish and I were at the COCO 7:45 am. After surveying land behind the building, and mentally deciding where we wanted to set up the evaporation pond and the garden, we get to work on clearly the vegetation and trash. We are still waiting to hear back from our plant guy in Jhunjhunu, so after we get the land cleared we get to work on the evaporation pond.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

While working, Bula brought us piping hot chai tea to take a break and “cool” off from the work. It was (and always is) quite tasty, but it didn’t exactly do much to help cool us off. During this chai break, we asked Shiv Ratan and Bula not to throw trash out behind the building anymore. They agreed, and then Bula immediately took our empty plastic chai cups and threw them over the wall separating the property from the road. Even though Vaishnavi’s Hindi is getting better each day, I think something got lost in the translation of our request.

With some help from Shiv Ratan (the operator of the COCO) we are able to dig out a ~4 inch deep pit that is 5 feet by 9 feet in size. Conveniently, it was time for him to run the RO machine to produce drinking water, which meant we were able to collect some brine for our evaporation pit. After fixing some some holes in the plastics and filling up a 21 liter jug 5 times (Vaish and Kate have some serious upper body strength!) our pit was ready. We took some key measurements- including the depth of the water and the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) level. We also had a bit of luck and found some algae in the RO brine, which we saved to use in a different experiment.

After these tasks, it was now 10 am and starting to get quite steamy out, so we decided to take a break (and showers!) back in our rooms and then go back to our office in the afternoon. Around 3:30 pm we got a call from Kuldeep, who we had met in the Jaipur office. He was in Bakhtawarpura, a town which was a 15 rupee bus ride (~30 cents) up the road from Bagar, and offered to show us around. He led us to his family’s “town” house where we met his grandma, uncle, and aunt and drank chai tea. His family seemed very friendly, but his grandma only spoke the local language. So at any given point in the conversation, there were 2 sets of translations going on: Vaish to Kate and I and Kuldeep to his Grandma. We were then taken on a tour where we saw an ornately painted house that was over 250 years old.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

We were then taken to a temple that was dedicated to Krishna. We went inside and all three of us walked around the altar three times- we had to be careful not to get in the way of another woman, who seemed to be deep in mediation (walking the same path several times is a form of mediation).

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

We also noticed some awesome solar powered street lamps!

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

We met with the local Sarpanch (essentially a mayor) who helped Bakhtawarpura win multiple awards for the village’s cleanliness and its water system. Kuldeep is standing next to me and the Sarpanch is in the middle.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

We then walked a “kilometer” out to Kuldeep’s family farm (it was not a great day for us to wear sandals). Along with taking in the beautiful scenery, we also met his father, who was working on the family’s small dairy. One of their cows was only born with 3 legs, but he seems to be doing just fine.

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

After the dairy we went to see his family’s "farm" house; where we meet his mother, his two sisters, and his brother. His sister made us the most delicious chai tea we’ve had yet- which was made from milk from their dairy! After tea, we went out to inspect the farm’s irrigation system, but were distracted by a bunch of baby goats! They were so adorable and wanted to jump around everywhere! One was a little boy goat, who was quite frisky. Upon noticing that Kate was excited to see the baby goats, Kuldeep’s mother picked the frisky one and practically threw it at Kate for her to hold!

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

After inspecting the irrigation system, which uses water from a well and pipes it down-hill to the sprinklers with a 20 foot radius, we went over to a neighbor’s house to ask to have some pepper plants for our garden. They were very happy to help us and even tried to give us other food as well. As an added bonus, I got to get my picture taken with their camel!

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

On the long walk back to the bus stop, we also stopped and picked up an aloe vera plant from Kuldeep’s field. He walked us back to the bus stop and waited until we got on. After the crowded bus ride back to Bagar and a late dinner, it was finally time for some much needed sleep!

From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Shopping for supplies

A 15 minute bus ride at 9:30am in an overcrowded public bus found us on the streets of Jhunjhunu searching for supplies for our project. After picking up some general cleaning supplies for our room (which Kate is using right now!) we got down to business and went looking for a hardware store. A share auto ride of Rs5 per person got us to the right part of town and looking in a few stores we found some black plastic sheets, string, a mesh scoop, some measuring tape and others bits and pieces. We also did do a little shopping for scarves (absolutely essential to protect your head from this heat!) and also picked up some fruits. The plants we are looking for were not available, but the kind nursery owner offered to look for them in Sikar, another big town a couple of hours away. A bus ride back to Bagar, during which Kate made a friend from Lamba (a village nearby) who is working in the UAE now, a good lunch and then back to the office to get some work done.

And while we were working it finally started to rain! Which may sound strange- most of the time no one likes rain. But in India, the rain helps cool things off... at least for a little bit. The rain also helped us make a new friend. Lizards are fairly common here, but this one seems quite fond of the window in our office. He is so cute, we may just have to make him our unofficial office pet!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Finally in Bagar- Time to get to work!

After waking up at 6:30 am and a 5 hour bus ride, we finally arrive in Bagar! Sarvajal chose this site for us because it houses a Company Owned, Company Operated RO machine; which is affectionately referred to as a COCO. This means we can run our experiments and pilots without jeopardizing any franchisee’s business. Not that we plan on causing any chaos, but it is nice to know we won’t be too much of a hassle. Bagar is also the home town of the Piramals- the prominent family that started Piramal Enterprises (the umbrella organization of Sarvajal).
Aditya and ­­­­Tarun came to meet us at the bus, showed us our rooms, the restaurant where we will be having our meals, the Sarvajal office where we will step-up shop and the COCO. Everyone at the office has been helpful and nice; despite the Hindi/English language barrier (thank goodness for Vaishnavi!). Tomorrow we plan to travel the 10 km back to Jhunjhunu to pick up supplies for both ourselves and the project. It promises to be an interesting day, so make sure to read tomorrow’s post!
From Sarvajal- Bagar, Week 1

Thursday, July 14, 2011


From Headquarters in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, we traveled on an overnight bus to Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan. We hit the ground running and after meeting staff at the Jaipur office, we ventured out to visit two Sarvajal franchises in the area.

Despite a rainy auto-rickshaw ride getting there…..

From Sarvajal- Jaipur

Our first stop was in Pratap Nagar. This franchise is run by Suresh Saini and his large family. Suresh was kind enough to meet us at the main road and show us the way back to his franchise in the middle of a residential neighborhood. We walked through a beautiful garden with vegetables and fruit trees – immediately wondering if Suresh was using brine to water his plants….

From Sarvajal- Jaipur

Turns out he is! And more on that in a minute….

From Sarvajal- Jaipur

Suresh has been in operation for about four months. He currently serves 200 customers in the area, 170 of which collect water daily. The majority of his business is deliveries with only some customers purchasing directly from the RO plant. His machine runs approximately five hours per day. His raw water comes from a well with a TDS level of 550 and he delivering product with a TDS level of around 70-80.

He has been using the brine to water his garden every since the RO plant was installed. So far he hasn’t noticed any difference in the growth of his plants or the taste of his vegetables. He suspects the TDS of the brine is about 1100. He produces approximately 2000 liters of brine per day, all which goes to his garden. Outside of monsoon season, that 2000 liters isn’t enough so he supplements it with well water.

Suresh’s garden yields only enough for his family- but with 8 brothers that’s a lot of mouths to feed! The garden has pomegranate, guava (amrud) fruit and papaya trees. He also grows mint, okra, eggplant, leshua, gavari phali, bajra and lentils.

From Sarvajal- Jaipur

He also uses the brine in his house for domestic use such as mopping the floor, laundry, doing dishes and for bathing. They have not reported any problems with using brine for this purpose. If there is any excess brine left after his use (which happens in the monsoon), he allows neighbors to take the brine through a pump for their domestic and garden use.

He has yet to recoup his initial investment but he’s confident that he will soon. He estimates that he needs approximately 300-350 customers total in order to turn a profit. He sold his first 200 customers by bringing samples door to door and letting people try it for free. His operating costs are about 1500Rs per month for electricity. In order to offer the delivery service, the added expense includes rent for the Tempo (mini truck) to deliver the water at 550Rs per day (including fuel). The Tempo driver costs 500Rs per month. Suresh also has four employees that he pays 150Rs per person per day

One the added benefits he provides his customers is chilling the water. One of his holding tanks is insulation and connected to a cooling unit that dispenses the chilled water into insulated jugs that he delivers to customers.

From Sarvajal- Jaipur

The next franchise was in an industrial area and a bit more difficult to find – but we got lucky with an auto driver who was willing to take on the challenge and after circling the block a number of times.

From Sarvajal- Jaipur

There we found Sanvarmal Jhangid who runs a franchise in Sitapura. The RO machine is housed in a building within the gates of his lumberyard where he treats wood for his large furniture making business.

From Sarvajal- Jaipur

From Sarvajal- Jaipur

Half of the brine he produces is used in a machine to treat wood. The raw lumber is loaded into a large chamber and soaked in brine mixed with chemicals.

From Sarvajal- Jaipur

We asked what he does with the chemicals after the wood is treated. He told us that 3/5 of the brine-chemical mixture is absorbed into the wood in one treatment and then he puts the remaining mixture towards the next batch meaning he never has to dump it. He explained that the fluoride in the brine actually helps with the treatment of the wood and he can use less total water as a result. He’s been doing this for approximately two months and hasn’t noticed any difference in the integrity of the wood or any adverse affects to his final product.