Archive | Water Efficiency

Thomas, Etheridge Support Water Initiative

LOS ANGELES, March 10 (UPI) — U.S. singers Melissa Etheridge and Rob Thomas are to take part in the global water initiative Dow Live Earth Run for Water.

Live Earth, organizer of the Dow Live Earth Run for Water; Pacific Sports, race director for the Los Angeles event; and Atlanta Track Club, race director for the Atlanta event, announced Monday that Etheridge will perform live at the Los Angeles eent and Thomas will perform in Atlanta.

The Dow Live Earth Run for Water is a series of 6km run/walks, culminating with water education villages and live musical performances.

“I’m a long-time environmental advocate and believe strongly that it is our duty as a society and as individuals to preserve our planet and its resources,” Etheridge said in a statement. “I want to lend my name and time to this event because the global water crisis is an environmental issue that affects nearly 1 billion people on the planet and through this event we can raise awareness and money to help address it.”

“I am thrilled to be participating in this important event to bring clean, safe drinking water to the women and children around the world walking 6km every day to sustain their families,” Thomas said. “I encourage the Atlanta community to come out on April 18 because together we can make a difference in the lives of so many.”

The events are to take place in nearly 100 cities across 50 countries around the world April 18 to raise awareness and funds to help solve the global water crisis, organizers said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Drinking Water, Education, Water Efficiency0 Comments

Sydney's $1.7 Billion Desalination Plant

SYDNEY, Feb. 1 (UPI) — A $1.7 billion desalination plant has opened in Sydney, expected to supply up to 15 percent of the area’s water needs.

The seawater reverse-osmosis facility in the southern suburb of Kurnell has been driven by concerns about climate change, Sydney’s inconsistent rainfall patterns and a rapidly growing metropolitan area that attracts some 50,000 new residents each year.

“This is about preparing for Sydney’s expanding population. In the face of climate change, in the face of increasing drought, it is important we are securing Sydney’s water supply,” Kristina Keneally, premier of New South Wales, said during the plant’s opening ceremony Thursday.

The desalination plant is now producing 55 million liters per day of water, which will gradually increase to full capacity, 250 million liters a day. Water from the Kurnell facility will be distributed to 1.5 million people as part or all of their water supply throughout Sydney.

The plant is 100 percent offset by wind energy, and a new wind farm with 67 turbines is now up and running nearby at Bungendore.

Officials say coastal ecosystems will not be adversely affected by the salty discharge deposited back into the sea.

But John Kaye, a Greens MP in the New South Wales state Parliament, said the construction in Botany Bay had stirred up heavy metals that could harm migrating whales. Other sea life, he said, could also be affected by the dumping of saline waste back into the Tasman Sea.

“Sydney’s desalination plant was a huge mistake,” Kaye told the BBC.

“The historical records show we did not need it. The government says it is all powered by green energy, but that could have been used to offset coal generation elsewhere,” he said.

To achieve desalination at Kurnell, seawater is drawn into the system via a large 2.5-kilometer underwater tunnel. After gravel, sand, silt, seaweed and other debris have been removed, high pressure pushes the water through membranes small enough to capture the salt in a process known as reverse osmosis.

The desalinated reserves are then re-mineralized and slightly carbonated, while chlorine and fluoride are added, before being pumped directly into the city’s main supply.

Keneally said the project would add about $100 a year to the average person’s water bill, which would allow the plant to be fully paid off in four years.

“By 2025, global demand for water is predicted to grow by over 40 percent,” she said. “Along with dams, recycling and water efficiency, desalination is one of four key ways to ensure Sydney has enough water in the future.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Coal, Drinking Water, Drought, Recycling, Water Efficiency0 Comments

Los Angeles Eyeing Rainwater Ordinance

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 1 (UPI) — A proposal by the Los Angeles Department of Public Works would make builders of developments and new homes capture and reuse rainwater runoff, official said.

The ordinance, written in July by Board of Public Works Commissioner Paula Daniels, is designed to prevent approximately 104 million gallons of polluted runoff ending up in the Pacific Ocean, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

Under the ordinance, builders would provide permeable pavement, rainwater storage tanks, horticultural areas and curb bump-outs. The ordinance mandates builders manage 100 percent of a project’s runoff or face a $13-a-gallon runoff fee.

Holly Schroeder of the Los Angeles-Ventura chapter of the Building Industry Association says she’s happy with the concept:

“But when we now start talking about using LIDs (low impact development) as a regulatory tool, we need to make sure we devise a regulation that can be implemented successfully,” she said.

The ordinance has to clear both the Planning and Land Use Management and the Energy and the Environment committees of the City Council and come up for a full council vote before crossing the mayor’s desk, the Times said.

If it clears all those hurdles, the law could go into effect by 2011.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Wastewater & Runoff, Water Efficiency0 Comments

Rain Harvesting Saves Tucson Water Supply

TUCSON, Dec. 28 (UPI) — Tucson’s push to use rainwater to meet landscaping needs could serve as a model for dry regions throughout the nation, Arizona environmentalists said.

Beginning next year, new businesses in Tucson must use rainwater for at least half of their landscaping needs.

If all of Tucson’s rainwater could be collected, it would amount to about 75 percent of the water delivered to homes and businesses each year, said Jim Riley, a University of Arizona hydrologist who teaches about rainwater harvesting.

“You can’t catch it all, but this is an important water source we should be thinking about in our planning,” Riley said.

Tucson officials are working with homeowners to install cisterns and cut gaps in curbs to let storm water fill basins around trees, rather have it flow into the city’s sewage system, The Arizona Republic reported Monday.

Such a system reduces outdoor water use, the largest drain on Tucson’s water supply, said Brad Lancaster, author of the book “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Landscaping, Wastewater & Runoff, Water Efficiency1 Comment

California's Napa Valley Vineyards Losing Water

ST. HELENA, Calif., Dec. 21 (UPI) — Slowing the rate of delivery would reduce the amount of water lost in vineyards in California’s Napa Valley, a Stanford researcher said.

Using water efficiently is a priority in the Napa Valley, where summers are hot and dry and grapevines must be irrigated to thrive.

Deep cracks caused by the natural shrinking and swelling of soil means that at least 10 percent of irrigation water bypasses vine roots and is wasted, Stanford researcher Eve Hinckley said.

Growers could reduce water loss by lowering irrigation drip lines to the ground or burying them, she said.

Growers also could slow the rate from drip emitters and irrigate earlier in the day for a longer period of time to allow more water to soak into the roots, rather letting the water bypass them altogether, the university said in a release Friday.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Drought, Drought & Shortages, Farming & Ranching, Land & Soil, Water Efficiency0 Comments

Water Requirements are an Issue for Adopting Renewable Energies

TONOPAH, Nev., Oct. 2 (UPI) — Renewable energy solutions, while answering the energy problems of the United States, also can require billions of gallons of water annually and could cause conflicts over water resources, The New York Times reports.

“When push comes to shove, water could become the real throttle on renewable energy,” Michael E. Webber, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Austin who studies the relationship between energy and water, told the Times.

Water efficiency is especially problematic with solar thermal farms, which use mirrors arranged in long troughs. “Trough technology has been more financeable, but now trough presents a separate risk — water,” said Nathaniel Bullard, a solar analyst with New Energy Finance, a London research firm. Photovoltaic power plants, while typically more costly and less efficient than solar thermal farms, consume less water, mainly to wash the solar panels.

Solar developer BrightSource Energy is hoping to benefit from the water consumption issue with a technology that places mirrors on towers, producing a higher-temperature steam than from a trough system. It then uses a dry cooling method, which does not adversely affect power output.

In the meantime, water consumption is a contentious issue with state regulators for a number of big solar projects. Already, solar developers in California have had to resort to technologies that are less water intensive because local officials have refused to make large quantities of water available for their projects.

So far California has 35 large-scale solar projects planned that could generate 12,000 megawatts of electricity, each project with different water needs. In the southern part of the state, BrightSource Energy’s dry-cooled Ivanpah project would need some 25 million gallons of water a year, mostly to wash mirrors. But in California’s Mojave Desert, 705 million gallons would be swallowed up by the wet-cooled Abengoa Solar project, less than half the size of the Ivanpah project.

In Nye County, Nevada, requests for water from renewable energy developers “far exceed the amount of available water,” said Joni Eastley, chairwoman of the county commission.

German developer Solar Millennium announced plans to build two large solar farms in the state’s arid Amargosa Valley. Hard-hit from the recession, the hundreds of jobs the project would create was welcome news to the Nevada community. But now the people are divided ever since the company disclosed that the project would require 1.3 billion gallons of water a year — about 20 percent of the valley’s available water. While some are worried about the impact of the solar farms on the environment, others are hoping to earn money selling their water rights.

As the population increases and renewable energy development continues, water scarcity will become a problem throughout the United States, not just in the arid western states, predicts Daniel M. Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

“When we start getting 20 percent, 30 percent or 40 percent of our power from renewables, water will be a key issue,” Kammen told the Times.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Consumption, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Other, People, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Water Efficiency0 Comments

Sustainable High Density

Modern urban centers from Manhattan to Hong Kong now boast neighborhoods that house well over 100,000 people per square mile, while providing their inhabitants an excellent quality of life. As world civilization voluntarily and inexorably urbanizes, new megacities will be built everywhere. It is estimated that within the next few decades the number of megacities on earth – defined as an urbanized area with over 10 million inhabitants – will increase from around 20 today to over 400. So what innovations being pioneered today will enable cities like this to provide a high quality of life, and how will cities of such size and density reduce their vulnerability to economic or physical disruptions?

In a way, a megacity is antithetical to the notion of being “off-grid,” yet in important ways it is the megacity that needs to be as self sufficient as possible, since having 100,000 people per square mile (20,000 per square kilometer) means that any resource that needs to be imported, stored or removed is going to have to be handled in very high volumes. Therefore energy efficiency, waste management, as well as energy and water harvesting and treatment are technologies that are extremely important to the megacity – along with smart systems to interconnect all of them. So along with energy and water efficiency, harvesting and reuse, how else can a megacity exist relatively off-grid? Equally important is the closely related question of how can a megacity experience a postive balance of payments – supporting itself economically?

Cities could become food exporters.

To explore this question beyond the usual suspects there are two evolving technologies (both are evolving, not emerging, because both have illustrious histories) that promise to transform megacities in important and very positive ways, one is high-rise agriculture, and the other is massive tunnelling systems.

It is common for the smart growth crowd to say “build up, not out,” but this misses two key points. First, of course, the smart growth advocates tend to forget that the smartest growth is unplanned. Centrally planned growth tends to actually promote sprawl, because those of us who don’t want to live in towers simply buy land and build homes on the far side of whatever “greenbelt” they manage to decree. But more on point, building up instead of out ignores building downwards as well. Some of the greatest urban gridlock ever seen has been ameliorated by tunnelling – anyone who tries to get to Logan Airport from downtown Boston during rush hour will have nothing but good things to say about the much maligned “big dig.” It’s too bad we don’t have more big digs – in the heart of urban centers we could put freeways and rail underground, and our cities could reach for the sky, and there would never be a traffic jam.

Tunnelling on a grand scale can seem mundane until you learn more about it – then you realize it is a fascinating field that is advancing at breakneck speed, incorporating new technology across multiple disciplines as fast as it becomes available. From GPS systems that allow a tunnelling machine to always know precisely where it is beneath the earth, to better cutting bits, to debris removal conveyers, to conveyers to bring forward shoring material, to worker shelter and control rooms, modern tunnelling machines can exceed a mile in length and cost billions to acquire and operate. The global leader in tunnelling systems is Herrenknecht AG. A good website that covers the world of tunnelling is

As the megacities of the future are built, tunnelling machines will play an integral part in endowing these cities with efficient transportation systems. Tunnelling underground to create utility conduits to transport water and energy will also be necessary in cities of ultra-high density. Using the volume of underground space to host much of the physical plant of megacities will make the surface areas far less congested, and far more pleasant for people. The underground systems of megacities can include large-scale water cisterns, or even enhanced geothermal power stations to extract power from the heat in the earth’s crust.

The imperative to build upwards is already a part of the new urban vision, but what about high-rise agriculture? The technology to grow food at extremely high volume indoors is already well understood – the Netherlands, for example, is a net food exporter in spite of being the most densely populated nation in Europe. But what the Dutch do using advanced hydroponics and lighting, in greenhouses that glow for miles across the reclaimed polders all year long, might instead take place on the stacked stories of a skyscraper.

One of the pioneers of high rise agriculture is Dickson Despommier, a professor at Columbia University and the founder of Vertical Farms LLC. Most of the technology to operate a vertical farm is already here, as well as much of the infrastructure. A properly designed vertical farm imports grey water (plenty of that in a mega-city) and pumps it to the top of the building, then allowing it to trickle downwards through hydroponic media on floor after floor. With mirrors and energy efficient lighting, along with daylight, a high-rise farm would probably consume, overall, less energy and water per calories grown than a greenhouse, since heating would be far more efficient in a multi-story structure. Despommier estimates a high rise farm on one city block (30 stories, 100,000 square feet per floor) could produce enough food to meet the needs of at least 10,000 people (possible much more, read “The Vertical Farm” .pdf, 2004). Every type of produce except for grains is potentially cost competitive to land-intensive traditional agriculture.

The implications of building upwards and downwards, employing novel technologies ranging from enhanced geothermal to high-rise farming, hold forth not only the oft-wished for promise of attracting humanity’s billions off the land and into densely populated megacities, but also the promise of cities that live nearly off the grid, cities that may, despite their magnitude, require very little from the rest of the world. Cities that might actually export power and food.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Geothermal, Homes & Buildings, Other, People, Science, Space, & Technology, Transportation, Waste Management, Water Efficiency2 Comments

Green Public Works

Only an extreme libertarian would claim there is no role for government. In the face of population growth, aging infrastructure, and myriad new, cleaner and more sustainable ways to deliver energy, water and transportation resources, there is much to be done by the public sector. Green public works will create wealth and resource abundance. Green public works must include massive new infrastructures and determining what these will be is a qualitatively focused and very subjective exercise – despite the advances of science. In California, the self-proclaimed greenest state in the USA, what are these green infrastructure investments we should make?

BUILD DESALINATION PLANTS – Upgrade California’s existing coastal power facilities to also include desalination capability. This would allow desalination plants to be more easily built since their construction would merely involve extending existing facilities. Currently about 6.0 cubic kilometers of water from northern rivers are transferred into the Los Angeles Basin each year. It would only cost $30 billion to build desalination plants to completely replace 6.0 cubic kilometers of water – $634 per acre foot – and because water would no longer have to be pumped over the Tehachapi mountains, zero net energy would be consumed. If the brine is piped several miles offshore before release, the powerful California current will ensure it is dispersed adequately. Investing in massive desalination plants will free up water for farmers and Northern Californian ecosystems, and provide a decisive and cost-effective hedge against drought. Ref. California Water System, Desalination Cost, Affordable Desalination, Sverdrups vs. Brine.

INCREASE ELECTRICITY PRODUCTION – California needs to average about 50 gigawatts of output 24 hours per day if California’s commuters are going to turn electric. Currently California generates about 50 gigawatts during peak, and about half that at night. Extended range electric cars store at least 10 kWh onboard, all-electric cars store up to 50 kWh onboard. Whenever they are parked, these cars will all be micro-utilities for their owners. Load balancing with electric vehicles may provide a significant portion of load balancing necessary to make feasible large scale development of intermittant renewable power sources such as wind and solar. Along with utility scale wind and solar power plants, California should consider enhanced geothermal power, next generation nuclear power, and additional natural gas power plants. Investing in new power stations will facilitate the electrification of California’s vehicle fleet, and virtually eliminate California’s dependence on imported oil. Ref. Gigawatt-Hours per EV Commuters, Optisolar’s Thin Film, Utility Electric Storage, Bright Source’s Power Tower.

IMPROVE ELECTRICAL TRANSMISSION – Direct current lines, that have ultra-modern relays but overall cost much less, can be installed in underground conduits. High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) power lines should cross California and extend onto a super-grid spanning all of North America, to allow highly efficient electricity transmission in great volumes over large distances. Upgrading to a bigger, more efficient power grid using HVDC also creates more capacity to harvest large surges of electricity generation. Wind hits the turbines on the west coast, and the cost of coal fired energy in Pennsylvania drops. Ref. The Electric Age, TREK’s HVDC Transmission, Mediterranean Solar.

BUILD MORE ROADS AND FREEWAYS – Along with increasing the supply of energy and water, California’s public works need to include better transportation conduits – and in this context the war on the car is incredibly short-sighted. The car, the most liberating personal transportation system ever conceived, is within a tantalizingly few years of becoming completely green. Cars will be totally recyclable, ultra-safe, non-toxic, smart, use clean and sustainable fuel, and have no ecological “footprint” whatsoever. Instead of making war on the car, we must simply make room for it. Wider boulevards, wider freeways, more parking structures. Instead of adding trolley tracks, create more lanes for vehicular traffic. The idea that mass transit – except perhaps in the case of high-speed rail – can’t be fulfilled on roads is ridiculous. Many practical schemes already exist, such as busses and taxis, or are emerging, such as share-cars and autopilot, that will allow abundant, unclogged roads to deliver mass transit more comprehensive than ever before. The tragedy is that by developing light rail and maintaining roads, neither is done well. Roads are far more versatile than light rail, and we need to rebuild and expand all of them.

The mentality in Sacramento, to continue using California as an example, is to prioritize conservation. The conventional wisdom is that we are on the brink of experiencing catastrophic scarcity in all areas, food, energy, water and land. Clearly it is important to legislate reasonable upgrades to energy and water efficiency standards for buildings, as well as encourage more efficient vehicles. But the notion that we are running out of energy, water and land, particularly in California, is ridiculous. What we are running out of is a balanced discussion of these issues. It is easy for policymakers, hiding behind the proclamations of extremist environmentalists, to pretend there are only hard choices – it allows prices to stay high, which enriches the public sector without requiring they make any new investments.

It is ultimately up to California’s voters – do they want to live in a state where energy, water and land are rationed, so higher consumer prices for these necessities translate into massive hidden taxes, or will they finally demand the public sector start doing its job, investing in infrastructure instead of benefits taxpayers don’t get, and extreme environmentalists get out of the way? Green public works, to supply more transportation, water and power, would create more good jobs, and having these amenities would enable leapfrog levels of economic growth.

Posted in Buildings, Cars, Coal, Conservation, Drought, Electricity, Energy, Geothermal, Natural Gas, Population Growth, Solar, Transportation, Water Efficiency, Wind1 Comment

Affordable Green Homes

A few months ago we toured the “Idea House,” sponsored by Sunset Magazine, located in the lower Mission District of San Francisco. The building was fascinating – two units, three stories – with one larger home taking up all three floors, and an apartment consuming part of the 2nd floor on the west side of the structure. Everything about it was smart, from a wind generator to photovoltaics and solar water heating, to materials and energy efficiency – but the estimated cost was well over $500 per square foot.

Sunset Magazine’s “Idea House” in San Francisco.
An excellent example of cutting-edge green home design.

Along with everything else, the appeal of green design is supposed to be economic savings. If you conserve resources when producing a home, then conserve resources while operating the home, the money you save by conserving resources should more than pay the costs for the extra innovations necesssary to achieve those savings. Getting from bleeding edge to commodity is never an instantaneous process, however, and if Sunset’s Idea House is pushing the envelope of innovation, Michelle Kaufmann Design homes are at the forefront of matching green innovations with affordability.

If you want to get a good look at a Michelle Kaufmann home, watch this interview with Michelle Kaufmann posted on YouTube by Jill Fehrenbacher of Inhabitat (a very excellent online resource on green building design and green design in general) entitled “MK Lotus, Michelle Kaufmann’s new eco-prefab home.” As Kaufmann states, “We’ve been trying to find the best blending of being green but also being cost-effective.”

This effort appears to be successful, because Kaufmann’s predesigned, prefab homes are priced at approximately $250 per square foot, which is a competitive price compared with conventional homes. With townhomes and multifamily units, Kaufmann’s prices can drop well under $200 per square foot, also competitive with conventional construction. But these homes cost less to operate – and they are green.

As Kaufmann describes this, her homes are designed to “use zero net electricity, maximize water efficiency, minimize waste, and use maximum resource efficiency [in construction and operation].”

Kaufmann’s latest home design, the MK Lotus, has many good examples of how this is put into practice. Not only are photovoltaics on the roof, but the entire energy system of the home is integrated so, for example, there is a market-smart charging system where, depending on the price of electricity at any given moment, your plug-in EV is either charging itself from the grid, or discharging electricity into the grid to run the utility meter backwards at a higher rate than the vehicle’s onboard charge was originally acquired. You don’t just have a home with photovoltaics and an EV, you have your own micro-utility company.

The MK Lotus’s roof has an R45 insulation rating before you put the turf garden on top of that, which not only further improves the insulation value of the roof, but collects and filters rainwater. Along with runoff harvesting, the home has dual flush toilets, a grey water system that drains shower and sink water to the toilet tanks for 2nd use, and low flow shower heads – making it very water efficient.

With top value insulation everywhere, Energy Star appliances, a high velocity, highly efficient mini-duct ventilation system, and LED lighting, the MK Lotus home is very energy efficient. This is furthered by windows placed at corners and in floor to ceiling configurations to maximize natural light during the day. “Our goal is to never require electric lighting during the day” said Kaufmann. The home also has radiant heating and skylights that are positioned to allow hot air to easily rise out of the home on hot days.

“You can live in this home completely off the grid with just backup systems,” said Kaufmann – a statement which highlights a trend where not only will green homes save money and resources for the owners, but they will save society additional significant resources when more and more, new communities are built without requiring huge investments in new water and electrical utility infrastructure – all of this can be downsized. Green homes march on.

Posted in Electricity, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Homes & Buildings, Solar, Water Efficiency, Wind0 Comments

India's Water Future

Are Interbasin Water Transfers a Solution?
Himalayan Mountains in India
India’s magificant Himalayan mountains
Water flows in abundance from the rooftop of the world
Photo: Michel Dalle

Editor’s Note: India and China have comparable rates of per capita water consumption; Indians consume 470 cubic meters of water per person per year, Chinese consume 407 cubic meters water per person per year. But at the same time, the Chinese convert water into wealth far more efficiently than the Indians. In China one dollar of GNP is produced per every 370 liters of water, in India 880 liters of water are required. In the USA, water guzzlers at 1,606 cubic meters per person per year, a dollar of GNP requires only four liters of water. In the more water-frugal European Community, where each person only consumes 605 cubic meters of water per person per year, a dollar of GNP requires a mere three liters of water.

Clearly the correlation between water and wealth is higher with respect to water efficiency than to water consumption. Dramatic gains in economic well-being can be had by more efficiently using available water, rather than by increasing available water. On the other hand, there are examples where massive transfers of water have bestowed immense benefit on a society. In California over fifty cubic kilometers of water per year are transported into the southern and western cities through a massive system of aquaducts.

Can massive canals be part of India’s strategy to more efficiently use water, by transporting cubic kilometers of water each year from wet regions to dry regions? The power necessary to move water over mountains is a daunting obstacle, but the electric power requirements aren’t necessarily as great as some have claimed. To lift a cubic kilometer of water 250 meters requires about 100 megawatt-years of electricity – the output of a one relatively small generating plant.

India is testing the concept of “interlinking” river basins with the construction of a westward flowing canal that will connect the Ken river to the Betwa river. Certainly whatever solutions involving canals are ultimately chosen in India, will come alongside resurrection of traditional water conservation means; constructing contour berms to percolate water to refill aquifers, rebuilding cisterns and tanks and otherwise harvesting runoff, and reforesting hillsides and restoring topsoil to increase absorption of rainfall. – Ed Ring

Abdul Kalam, President of India
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
President of India

The transfer of large volumes of freshwater from surplus areas to deficit areas is currently endorsed by the scientist-President of India as well as local leaders in the less water endowed areas – as the panacea for addressing the twin problems of drought and floods in India.

This most ambitious, much talked about Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) project, estimated to cost approximately $112 billion USD (in 2002 price level), has attracted more debate than consensus in India. The ILR proposal which is backed by the three branches of the Indian political system – legislature, executive and judiciary, has been dismissed by civil society organizations as well as the traditional water managers. The recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on a river link between most populous neighboring provinces – Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh – is evidence that the mammoth ILR project is being pursued but in a decentralised manner. Since its inception, the rationale of the ILR project has been under severe scrutiny not only in India but also in South Asia due to its magnitude. Does India need a project of such magnitude to address its water management challenges? Is there any alternative to this grandiose intention in India?

Grand water schemes are not new in the world. There are number of instances on this planet where human interventions using modern technology have redrawn otherwise natural river courses to address a water crisis. The gigantic South-to-North water diversion project underway in China, large scale water diversions away from the Aral Sea in former Soviet Union, the Irtysh-Karaganda canal project in Kazakhstan, Israel’s National Water Carrier, the South-Eastern Anatolia Project in Turkey (also known as GAP), Spain’s National Hydrological Plan (now suspended) are the few examples of bold forays of water resources engineering.

In similar fashion the Indian government has developed a proposal to tackle its peculiar climatic contradiction of drought and flood situations by proposing large scale interbasin water transfers and linking of rivers. The proposal has been presented as a major initiative, and as the definitive answer to India’s future problems and needs.

The Rationale of Interlinking Rivers

Map of Water Basins of India
In general, India has water abundance in the north and
east, and water scarcity in the west and south.

The availability of water resources in various river basins of the country is highly uneven. While 32% of the total water resources are still available in the Brahmaputra basin, and 28% of the total water resources in the Ganga basin, this availability is merely 0.2% in the Sabarmati basin. The water scarcity in river basins is growing fast with increase in population. Based on this criteria and availability of water in different river basins, some basins have already have scarce water resources and many more basins are likely to have water scarcity with the growing population by year 2025.

Out of 12 major and 48 medium river basins in India, the government predicts that by 2025 the deficit river basins will be Ganga, Subernarekha, Krishna, Mahi, Tapi, Cauvery, Pennar and Sabarmati. The surplus basins would be Brhamaputra, Barak, Narmada, Brahmani-Baitarani, Mahanadi, Godavari and Indus. Considering the precautionary approach to face the challenge of water scarcity in several river basins in 2025, the government has taken the interlinking of rivers as its definitive answer.

India receives an annual precipitation of 4,000 billion cubic meter (BCM, equivalent to 4,000 cubic kilometers) of which 75% occurs just in the four months of the monsoon period. From the annual precipitation, 1,869 BCM of water appears as runoff in various river basins. The utilizable water resource has been assessed as 1,132 BCM. Rainfall in India is erratic and uneven that ranges from 11,000 millimeter annually in some parts of North Eastern India to 100 millimeter in Western India. To address this climatic disparity and find ways for augmentation of utilizable water, interlinking of rivers has been put forward by Indian government. The ILR proposal also promises to enhance the production of food grains up to 380 million tonnes to help meet ever increasing population demand by 2025. The ILR is projected to provide 35 million hectares of additional potential arable land and 34,000 megawatt of electricity.

The idea of linking rivers for various purposes in the sub-continent is not new. Sir Arthur Cotton conceived a plan to link rivers in Southern India for inland navigation in the nineteenth century. While the project was partially implemented, the river-linking canals could not survive in the face of rapid development of railways. The idea of a Ganga-Cauvery Link was proposed by Dr. K.L. Rao, former Union Minister for Irrigation, in 1972. The link involved a lift of water 450 meters from the flood flows of the Ganga, withdrawing 60,000 cusecs (60,000 cubic feet per second) of water for 150 days in a year including a 2,640 kilometer long link canal. The plan was discarded as it involved an high cost ($2.7 billion) and required a large energy consumption to operate its pumps. Subsequently, Capt. Dinshaw J. Dastur, an aviator, advanced a proposal for the “Garland Canal” system that consisted of two canals: (1) the Himalayan Canal and (2) the Central and Southern Garland Canal. The government agency indicated that the project was impracticable, technically unsound, and economically prohibitive.

Two Components: Himalayan Rivers and Penninsular Rivers

In view of the K L Rao’s proposal, the Indian Ministry of Water Resources in 1980 framed a National Perspective Plan (NPP) for Water Development and the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) was established in 1982, to carry out studies in the context of the National Perspective. The NPP has two components: a) Himalayan Rivers and b) Peninsular Rivers. NPP has proposed 30 river links involving 37 rivers. As the proposal includes the Himalayan Rivers, which are transboundary in nature, the other South Asian riparian countries have conveyed apprehensions to India.

Map of Proposed Himalayan Interlinking Rivers
Proposed canals interlinking Himalayan Rivers include a lengthy
canal (6) bringing water to the arid northwest and all the way to the
west coast, as well as many canals moving water from east to west and
then to canals connecting all the way to the southern peninsula.
(Scale: 1 pixel = 6 kilometers)

The Himalayan Rivers development component ensures construction of storage reservoirs on the principal tributaries of Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers in India, Nepal and Bhutan along with interlinking of river systems to transfer surplus flows of the eastern tributaries of the river Ganga to the west, apart from linking of the main Brahmaputra and its tributaries with Ganga and Ganga with the river Mahanadi.

The Himalayan Rivers component carries 14 links, of which 12 interdependent links and 2 independent links. The links in Himalayan segment consists of some within the Ganga system (Kosi-Ghagra (Karnali), Gandak-Ganga, Ghagra-Yamuna, Sarda-Yamuna, some links between neighbouring rivers in the Brahmaputra system (Manas-Sankosh-Teesta); a couple of links between those two systems (Teesta-Ganga or an alternative Brahmaputra-Ganga link); one long link from Sarda to Sabarmati through the Yamuna and Rajasthan; one from the Ganga to Subernarekha via Damodar and then on to the Mahanadi.

The average flood discharge of Ganga is 50,000 cubic meter per second and for the Brahmaputra the average flood discharge is 60,000 cubic meter per second. Through these links the amount of water to be diverted are 1,500 cusec in Brahamaputra and 1,000 cusecs in Ganga. However, the National Commission for Integrated Water Resource Development Plan in its September 1999 report did not discuss the proposed Himalayan links in detail because the data are classified as confidential, but did observe that the costs involved and the environmental problems would be enormous. The Himalayan links are not to be touched now as there are international dimensions including Nepal and Bangladesh concerns.

Map of Proposed Peninsular Interlinking Rivers in India
Canals in southern India are being discussed as possibilities in the more
immediate future. A canal (10) from the Ken river to the Betwa is actually
nearing construction, and may be a test for the viability of interlinking.
(Scale: 1 pixel = 6 kilometers)

The Peninsular rivers development component is divided into four major parts: a) interlinking of Mahanadi-Godavari-Krishna-Cauvery Rivers basins; b) interlinking of west flowing rivers, north of Bombay and south of Tapi; c) interlinking of Ken-Chambal and d) diversion of other west flowing rivers. There are 16 links are proposed by the National Water Development Agency (NWDA), out of which 9 interdependent and 7 independent links are being proposed. Among the 16 links Ken-Betwa links has moved a step ahead.

In the proposal of NPP, the transfer of water has been proposed mostly by gravity; building of dams and storage, construction of canals and pumping of water where necessary (confined to around 120 meter). Pumping water over the Vindhya Mountains can transfer the Ganga-Brahmaputra water and its tributaries to regions in the south. The Ganga-Brahmaputra floodplains are about ten meters above mean sea level (MSL). The Vindhya Mountains are about 300 meters above MSL, separating the floodplains of the north from the Deccan Plateau, which is 250 meters above MSL.

The expected links where pumping would be necessary is Ganga-Subarnrekha (60 meters), Subarnarekha-Mahanadi (48 meters) and Godavari-Krishna (112 meters). The expected lift would be 1,200 cusecs water over 116 meter from Mahanadi to the Krishna basin. Some believe that the electric power required to pump water to such heights will be close to the current power generation of the entire nation, but as the table below indicates, this may not be at all the case. The Interlinking Rivers proposal carries the structure and design of the canals with 1:3,000 to 1:5,000 slope or 0.33 to 0.20 meter per kilometer. Expected maximum flow velocity of water transfer is 2 meters per second.

Table of Electricity Required to Pump Water from the Ganges to the Krishna Basin
As the table indicates, it would take 3.8 gigawatts of electricity (representing about 2.7% of
India’s estimated 2005 electrical generating capacity of about 140 gigawatts), running constantly,
to pump water 250 meters uphill at a volume of 38 cubic kilometers per year. Put another
way, a 250 meter lift will require about 100 megawatt-years for each cubic kilometer pumped.

The Initiative’s Recent Momentum

The ILR proposal has backed by the three organs of the Indian political system – executive, legislature and judiciary in a strange manner. For the last two decades, the National Water Development Agency (NWDA)” had been working on the subject but its proposals were non-starters for various reasons. Some believe that the “non-project” has suddenly become the most important undertaking of the Indian government. However, can argue that during 2001 and early 2002, the ground situation of severe drought and floods in several states had compelled the government to re-open the ILR project proposal. The events occurred in a cascading manner to put forward the ambitious project, hitherto a dormant idea. The President’s national address on August 14, 2002, the file of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to clean up Yamuna River in Delhi in late August, and a hearing on the Cauvery dispute by India’s Supreme Court on October 31, 2002 led the union government to issue a statement in Parliament in December for interlinking of rivers. The Prime Minister subsequently announced the setting up of a Task Force on ILR to consider the modalities of implementing the project.

Constraints and Concerns

An opinion poll conducted by the news weekly India Today prior to the 14th General Elections 2004, showed that 78 per cent of voters spread over 185 Parliamentary constituencies supported the project. Does that mean there is a consensus on ILR? The very idea of inter-linking of rivers as a flood control measure is being discarded by hydrologists. Moreover, The ILR is no answer at all to the needs of areas unserved by rivers. For drought mitigation there are enough alternatives available such as traditional rainwater harvesting, moisture conservation, tank-rehabilitation etc. The water experts believe that the primary answer to drought has to be local; it is only thereafter, and in some very unpromising places where no other options are feasible, that the bringing in of some external water may need to be considered.

Indian Ministry of Water Resources Logo

Some argued that the interlinking project has the potential for generating conflicts within the state, among the state and among countries in the cooperative management of the project in international river basins. Major river basins in India are ridden with conflicts over sharing of water resources. Provinces are hesitant to divert surplus water even they show it as deficit. In NWDA’s own admission that the major constraints for implementation of the ILR will be international dimension in several links including construction of dams in upstream Nepal and Bhutan. At the other end, Bangladesh, the lower riparian country has officially conveyed its apprehension about the Indian ILR project.

The unilateral nature of the Himalayan component of the proposed ILR project is the most worrisome aspect for the downstream riparian Bangladesh and upper-stream riparian Nepal, who are afraid of the environmental damages resulting from large-scale inter-basin transfer of water in the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna region. Other problems are submergence of large tracts of forests and large numbers of displacements. One conservative estimate says that the ILR will submerge 1,675,000 hectares of forests and agriculture land including 1,050,000 ha for reservoirs. The ILR includes 60 new reservoirs. While one government calculation predicts of 0.45 million people would be displaced, others estimate the figure would be 3.47 million.

Indian National Water Development Agency Logo

India’s most ambitious project is being carried out with utmost caution. The public mood is not evenly divided as the information on ILR is very limited and is not under the layman’s purview. The polarization between the pro-ILR and anti-ILR has been widening to further make it difficult for the government to complete it within a stipulated time frame given by the apex court of India. Given the peculiar and intricate federal structure of India with water coming under provincial government’s power, it is difficult to garner consensus on the viability of the project. Similarly, to get Union environmental clearance may pose a hurdle to the ILR. To redesign a natural river course is undoubtedly within the control of a scientific human. But its cascading impact is far reaching, in some aspects possibly uncontrollable.

The Ken-Betwa Link: The First Test Step of the ILR

A small step towards gigantic ILR project is the signing of Ken-Betwa link. Viewed from a political perspective, the Ken-Betwa link project offers a low-risk experiment for the controversial ILR proposal. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 231.45 kilometer long Ken-Betwa link canal was signed between the two adjacent provinces-Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh on August 25, 2005 in the presence of the Prime Minister of India. This project will divert 1,020 million cubic meters of surplus waters from the Ken river basin to the water deficit Betwa basin through construction of the Dandhan dam on the Ken River including five reservoirs under this proposal. However, the tripartite MoU will further address the concerns of UP in its detail project report (DPR). There is as yet no agreement on the actual sharing of water or costs, nor on the more serious issues of relocation and resettlement. But other issue needs attention is the fact that 8,650 hectares, including 6,400 hectares of forest area, will be submerged, and about 8,550 people in 10 villages will be displaced by the project. Uttar Pradesh has expressed its fears about the possible loss of water and power and sought compensation from Madhya Pradesh. This link wiil be a litmus test for the whole ILR project to go ahead.

About the Author: Avilash Roul has been writing, advocating, researching, creating knowledge on Environment and Development in various English Daily media since 2000. He worked with Down To Earth (fortnightly magazine published in New Delhi, India) for the last three years. He also contributed regularly in Sundays for a column in New India Express on environment and development. Right now Mr. Roul is working as an Assistant Coordinator for the Bank Information Center (, an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization that advocates for the protection of rights, participation, transparency, and public accountability in the governance and operations of the World Bank, regional development banks, and IMF.

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