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.

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