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Water & I

This booklet is part of a Series of 6 Booklets on Environmental Sustainability with a special focus on Climate Change. Each booklet aims to motivate individuals to take action to mitigate global warming by providing basic information in an easy to understand manner.

Water & I

Copyright © 2008 Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CERE)

ISBN 978-81-902018-0-3 PUBLISHER - Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CERE) All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be copied, transmitted or reproduced in a retrieval system in any form or by any means without prior permission of the Publisher.
This booklet is printed using environmentally-friendly materials. The inks used are vegetable oil-based inks and the paper is wood-free and chlorine-free.

It can float, fly or fall, is found on land, in the oceans and the sky. In what I eat and drink – in fact, in every part of me! It’s the most needed, most wasted, most common substance on Earth! Available for a price and for free. It is worshipped and feared. It is life giving as well as death causing. It is WATER!!



Water is Life; yet over 1.1 billion people in the world have no access to safe drinking water and over 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation. One-fifth of India’s population (200 million people) do not have access to safe drinking water, and 600 million lack basic sanitation. 3

How I use water...

Irrigation / agriculture Human needs Industry






Water makes up 60 to 70% (by weight) of all living organisms. 4

...and how I affect it

Pesticides/ insecticides



Waste disposal

Oil spills




About 80% of pollution to the marine environment comes from land-based sources. 5

Water for humans: Water is the a basic component of each cell and essential for my existence. It keeps my body temperature at 36.8 °C, forms part of my blood, helps carry oxygen and nutrients to my cells and removes waste material from my body.
A family in a slum has to make do with 5 - 10 litres of water per person per day while a middle income or high income family uses 125 to 300 litres of water per person per day.


A person can survive without food for more than 30 days, but less than a week without water. 6

Water keeps me clean and healthy, I use water to cook my food, wash my utensils, clean my house, water my plants, wash my scooter and flush the toilet. I use it for recreation like swimming, sailing, fishing and a host of other water related activities.

How much water do I use everyday?
Toilet flushing A short shower Tub bath Brushing teeth Washing dishes with running water Washing dishes with a basin Using the dishwasher 22.75 114

137 56

91 All figures are in litres


Water for agriculture: Imagine a water canal 10 meters deep, 100 meters wide, and 7.1 million kilometers in length - long enough to encircle the globe 180 times. That is the amount of water used each year to produce food for today’s 6.5 billion people. Water as an animal and plant habitat: From a small fresh water pond to the vast Pacific Ocean, almost every water body found on Earth is an important habitat for plants and animals. Life began in water and even today half the world’s creatures live under water, from the oceans and seas to freshwater habitats like lakes and rivers.

Water for industry and power production: All industrial units, from mega steel plants to small paper mills utilise water, either in their processes or for the disposal of by-products. This is one of the main reasons why traditionally industrial belts have developed along river banks. Water is also an important component in power production. River water is harnessed to produce hydroelectricity while the oceans and tides are used to produce energy. Thermal power plants also need vast volumes of water when they produce electricity.

When you consume 1 kg of grain, you effectively consume the 1,000 litres of water needed to grow that grain. When you consume 1 kg of beef, you are consuming the 16,000 litres of water needed to produce that amount of meat. So if India exports 1 tonne of any cereal, it amounts to exporting 1,000 tonnes of water. 9

Water and religion: Water has a central place in the practices and beliefs of many religions for two main reasons. Firstly, water cleanses, washing away impurities. Secondly, water is a primary building block of life but also has the power to destroy.

In Hinduism, water from the Ganga is used to cleanse and purify any place or object. Bathing in the river is believed to wash away one’s sins. 10

The Chinese believed that four Dragon Kings ruled over the seas in the north, east, south and west. These Dragon Kings could adopt human forms, and lived in crystal palaces guarded by shrimps and crabs. In Buddhist funerals, water is poured into a bowl and placed before the monks and the dead body. As it fills and flows over the edge, the monks recite, “Just as the rains fill rivers and overflow into the ocean, so also may what is given here reach the departed.” In ancient Egypt, Hapi was God of the Nile and a deity of fertility - he provided water, food and the annual inundation of the Nile. He was also known as the ‘Lord of the Fishes and Birds of the Marshes,’ indicating that he provided these creatures to the Egyptians along with the Nile. Without Hapi, Egypt would have died, and so he was often revered even above Ra, the Sun God. Uncegila was a mighty water snake in Native American mythology. She polluted rivers and subsequently flooded the land with salt water so nothing could grow. Once she was killed, the sun scorched her flesh and dried up the soil. This is said to have created the Nebraska and Dakota Badlands - large desert areas in the USA. 11

Two-thirds of the earth’s surface is covered by water. Around 97.5% is saline, making up oceans and seas. The remaining 2.5% is freshwater of which only 0.5% is found in rivers, lakes and under the ground. The rest is frozen in ice-caps.

Courtesy of Conservation Ontario


Rainfall: Rainfall is the primary source of fresh water, which constantly recharges our freshwater bodies and groundwater reserves. India is one of the wettest countries in the world with 1,170 mm of average rainfall annually. The world’s average rainfall is about 850 mm. Groundwater source: When rain falls on the earth’s surface, it seeps through the soil to a certain depth in the ground. This water is stored in the spaces between the soil particles and rocks that form the earth’s crust. This is known as groundwater, which we tap through our wells.

Glacier: Glaciers are large sheets of ice that flow down mountains. They cover 10% of the world’s landmass and store 75% of the world’s fresh water. In India, there are about 15,000 glaciers in the Himalayas, covering 17% of the mountain area and supporting numerous perennial rivers such as the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Indus.

The volume of ice breaking off from the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland has doubled in the last few years. Scientists say that ice holding enough water to supply New York city for a year now breaks away from the glacier in a day! 14



Fresh water is a limited and finite resource. It is unevenly distributed in time and space, and is already scarce in many areas of the world. Humans pollute and over-use their water sources leading to its depletion. With a rapidly expanding human population, industrialisation and the growing demands of modern society, water resources are under threat. Fresh water is indispensable, which is why many people predict that future wars will be fought over water.






Sources of water pollution

Stormwater Stormwate




Agriculture: The methods used by farmers to plant, irrigate and maintain their crops influence the quality of water sources. Intensive cultivation of crops and the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides pollute surface and groundwater sources. Pesticides used on fields, golf courses and lawns - run off into local ponds and rivers or seep down into groundwater, contaminating the fresh water that fish live in and the water we drink.


Waste Water a) Sewage: Our rivers and oceans are treated as sewers. We release sewage into our water bodies directly, without treatment. In India the main source of river pollution is city sewage. In large metropolises like New Delhi, 3.6 billion tonnes of sewage are dumped into rivers daily. It is estimated that some 30,000 million litres of pollutants enter our river systems every day.



When we take medicines, we eventually excrete the drugs, sending the compounds into the sewage system. Unfortunately, most wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to filter out chemicals, and a large portion passes right back into our freshwater sources. 18

b) Domestic waste water: We pollute our water bodies when we do laundry, wash our hands, brush our teeth, bathe or do anything that uses water. Domestic wastes like detergent, bleach, hair dye and mouthwash all go down the drain into our water sources. IMPACT OF POLLUTION ON WATER
Eutrophication is the enrichment of an aquatic system by the addition of nutrients. This is primarily caused by pollution, when phosphorus or nitrogen containing compounds enter small water bodies. Some algae and blue-green bacteria thrive on these nutrients leading to a population explosion called an algal bloom. Such an explosive growth of one species slowly causes the death of all other aquatic flora and fauna due to dissolved oxygen limitations. However, such an imbalance is usually unsustainable in natural ecosystems and soon the populations in bloom also crash. Thus, water pollutants can slowly kill an entire aquatic system by the process of eutrophication. DID YOU

Of the 17,600 million litres of wastewater generated in the country every day, only 4,000 million litres are treated. 19

Industries: Industrial manufacturing and waste disposal systems cause the contamination of water sources. Ever day, 10,000 million litres of pollutants enter our river systems from industrial units alone. With industrial development on the rise, industrial pollution accounts for 33% of the total pollution as against 20% a decade ago. Chemical, industrial and radioactive wastes are stored deep in the ground. Often, to save money, they are stored improperly and leach into the groundwater supply making it unfit for use.

Factories and thermal power plants release water that has been used as part of their cooling process into nearby streams and other water bodies. This heated water raises the temperature of the water body and affects the aquatic life in the water. This is known as thermal pollution. 20

Oil spills: Oil spills like the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill along the coast of Alaska cause major long term water pollution and problems for local wildlife, fishermen and coastal communities. The problems of oil pollution goes far beyond oil spills. Each year, road runoff and other non-spill sources send about 21 million barrels of oil to the oceans, which is 5 times more than the Valdez spill.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill killed over 2,50,000 birds, 2,800 Sea Otters, 300 Harbour Seals, 250 FA C T Bald Eagles and upto 22 Killer Whales. Even today, the marine ecosystem has not recovered. 21

Russian Doors / Marine Photobank

Disposal of Garbage: Six million tonnes of debris enter our oceans every year. Today, every major river in the world is polluted. However, we still continue treating our water bodies as easily accessible, free-touse dumpsites, hoping that our garbage will just flow away into oblivion. It never does.
During the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, 1.5 lakh idols of Ganesh are immersed into Mumbai's sea. The idols are made from non-biodegradable, hazardous materials like Plaster of Paris and coated with toxic paints containing mercury, cadmium, lead and carbon. The same happens during Durga Puja immersions. DID YOU


Globally, about 10,00,000 seabirds and 1,00,000 marine mammals (including 30,000 seals) and turtles are killed by plastic marine litter every year. 22

Unsustainable Use of Water: As our population grows, the demand for water increases and eventually leads to the drying up of lakes and reservoirs and the depletion of ground water sources. The depletion of groundwater sources is both an urban and a rural problem. Unregulated removal of groundwater by farmers, industries and home-owners has caused the water table to drop drastically in recent years.

The existing law says “the person who owns the land, owns the groundwater beneath”. This means that a person can buy one square metre of land and pump out all the groundwater of the surrounding areas without breaking the law. Is this correct? 23

Draining of water bodies and wetlands for development projects: Nearly all of the world’s river systems have been altered by human activities. River modifications and excessive water withdrawals have contributed to and aggravated drought conditions in arid areas throughout the world. The conversion of wetlands to agricultural and urban land has reduced their capacity to soak up and store excess water during the rainy season.

I protect coastal regions from the sea and cyclones and also serve as a nursery for three-fourths of all commercial fish. What am I? Mangroves.



Dams: Dams are built to provide both hydropower and irrigation water and to regulate river flow to prevent floods and droughts. Hydroelectricity accounts for 24.8% of India’s power and 96% of India’s dams have been built to provide irrigation water. But dams have a detrimental impact on the environment. Large dams in India have been the subject of controversy epitomised by the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP).

In 1947, there were fewer than 300 large dams in India. By 2004, there were 4,300 large dams. India ranks third in the world in dam building, after the US and China.



Large dams have a poor record. Large dams lead to the loss of forests, wildlife habitats and biodiversity. The Central Water Commission reports that dams have submerged over 50 lakh hectares of forests in India. Dams destroy large tracts of fertile land through salinity and waterlogging. In India, this problem has affected 30 to 60 lakh hectares of agricultural land. Large dams are expensive. In Rajasthan, the organisation Tarun Bharat Sangh has helped villagers build or restore earthern embankments or small dams. Their irrigation cost is Rs. 500 per hectare, while supplying one hectare with irrigation from the SSP will cost Rs. 1,70,000. Dams have displaced about 42 million people in India since independence. Of these, 62% are tribals or members of the schedule castes. Dams do not fulfil power generation and irrigation water estimates. There are better, cheaper and less destructive alternatives to large dams, whether to meet our energy or water needs.

The River-Linking Project (RLP) in India proposes to link 14 Himalayan rivers in the north and 16 peninsular rivers in the south. A number of leading environmentalists say that the project could be an ecological disaster. It would cause a total loss of 8,000 sq. km. of land entailing a loss of forests, biodiversity, reduction in downstream flows, damage to fisheries and wild life, displacement of people, conflicts over water sharing and pressure created on land by millions of cubic tonnes of water that might cause seismic tremors. RLP is also a linking of pollution. Not to forget the Rs. 5,60,000 crores needed for the project. No feasibility studies, detailed project reports or realistic estimates of costs have been prepared for this huge project as yet. 27


Health: Dirty water kills. The public health implications of unclean water are enormous. The lack of wastewater treatment and drainage facilities, and release of chemicals from industrial, mining and agricultural practices pollute our ground and surface water resources. Contaminated water can cause
Water-related diseases kill more than 5 million people each year. About 2.3 billion people suffer from diseases linked to dirty water. Some 60% of all infant mortality worldwide is linked to infectious and parasitic diseases, most of them water-related.




diseases like gastroenteritis, typhoid, hepatitis, dysentery and cholera. It can also lead to poisoning by drinking contaminated water or eating seafood that comes from polluted waters.



Sukinda valley in Orissa and Vapi in Maharashtra are among the 10 most polluted spots on the planet. Around 70% of the surface water and 60% of the drinking water in Sukinda, a chromite ore mining area, is polluted. The groundwater in Vapi, an industrial area, contains 96 times higher mercury than the prescribed safety norm. 29

BOTTLED WATER India is the 10th largest bottled water consumer in the world. People buy bottled water thinking it is safer than other sources. This industry is directly linked to apathy towards the environment - the more we pollute our water sources, the higher the sales of bottled water. The demand for bottled water has increased from 2 million cases in 1990 to 68 million cases in 2006. Most bottling plants depend on groundwater, creating a huge water stress in the areas where they operate.
Cost of producing 1 litre branded bottled drinking water* Cap Bottle Treatment Label Carton Transportation Others (tapa and case) Total cost (excluding labor, marketing and tax) Selling cost Rs 0.25 Rs 1.50 - 2.50 Rs 0.10 - 0.25 Rs 0.15 - 0.25 Rs 0.50 Rs 0.10 - 0.25 Rs 0.25 Rs 2.85 - 4.25 Rs 10.0 - 12.0
Source: Compiled from a number of sources by CSE.

* The prices are indicative. Compiled during 2003-2004.


Water Shortages: India is depleting its groundwater so fast that water scarcity could threaten entire regions, drive people off their land and stunt India’s ability to feed itself. Water is scarce in most parts of our country. In many villages, women walk several kilometres to collect a few pots of water. In many urban areas water is available only for a few hours a day. Water scarcity is also a source of political tension between several states in India. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are arguing over the sharing of the Cauvery waters. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat continue to fight over the allocation of the Narmada waters.

Loss of Wildlife and Biodiversity: Overexploiting of marine resources for food, pollution of our water resources, damming of rivers and draining of wetlands and water bodies have had a tremendous impact on wildlife and biodiversity. Few species can survive such dramatically altered aquatic environments.
By 2050, 1 in 4 people will FACT live in countries affected by chronic or recurrent shortages of freshwater. By 2050, nearly 7 billion people in 60 countries will face water scarcity. DID YOU

The Smooth-coated Otter population in India is rapidly declining. The greatest threat to its survival is the rapid depletion of the wetlands. 32

Marine Photobank

“The most significant impact of climate change is expected in respect to availability of water”, states Dr. R K Pachauri, Nobel Peace Prize recipient 2007 as Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Fresh Water Woes Several areas of the world are already water stressed. The situation could worsen due to changes in precipitation patterns, increasing salinity of groundwater due to a rise in sea levels and decreased river flow due to melting of glaciers. Sea Level Rise As the water temperatures in the oceans rise and the seas become less dense, they will spread, occupying more surface area on the planet. As mountain glaciers and polar ice caps melt, sea levels will further rise threatening island nations and coastal areas.



Recent research points out that 4% of global warming is due to dams. This estimate was published by Ivan Lima from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. Lima’s calculations estimate that the world’s 52,000 large dams produce approximately 104 million metric tonnes of methane each year due to the rotting of organic material in the reservoirs.


Conserve water: Use only what is required in our homes and offices as well as in agriculture, irrigation and industries. Recharge water sources through rainwater harvesting and regulate the amount of water pumped from our groundwater sources. Rainwater harvesting means collecting rainwater and storing it. It arrests groundwater depletion, raises the declining water table and augments water supply. Fresh water sources must not be polluted: Industrial effluents, domestic wastewater and sewage must be treated properly before being discharged. Over-exploitation of marine resources needs to be strictly regulated.


Generate new sources: Desalination of seawater may solve our water problems in the future. However, no large scale and cheap technology is presently available.



The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that water supplies stored in glaciers and snow cover are projected to decline, reducing water availability in regions dependent on glacier melt, where more than onesixth of the world population currently lives. The Gangotri Glacier that feeds the Ganga has receded by over 14 km in the last century alone. 36

Improve agricultural practices that help to conserve water: Mulching is the application of organic or inorganic material to the soil. This slows down surface run-off, improves soil moisture, reduces evaporation losses and improves soil fertility. Use of efficient watering systems such as drip irrigation and sprinklers also reduce water consumption. Minimise dependence on large projects: Mini-hydropower plants, that produce between 100kW and 1MW are more economical to build and operate; plus have minimal impacts on the environment.



When you pour used motor oil into gutters or drains or onto the ground it seeps into the soil. A litre of motor oil that seeps into groundwater can pollute 11,37,500 litres of drinking water. 37


Try to do one thing each day that will result in saving water. Don’t worry if the savings are minimal, every drop counts!


IN YOUR HOME & GARDEN Use only as much water as you require. Close the taps tightly after use. Don’t leave the tap running when you brush your teeth or wash your face. Fix any leaking taps and toilet tanks. Use a bucket while bathing instead of a shower or take a short shower. When washing the car, use water from a bucket and not a hose pipe. Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Correctly dispose of hazardous household products. Keep paints, used oil, cleaning solvents and other hazardous household chemicals out of drains, sinks and toilets. Fewer concrete and asphalt surfaces help the soil absorb more water and regenerate groundwater. Practise Rainwater Harvesting. Maintain septic systems properly. Form a group of water-conscious people and encourage others to join.


The word Rajasthan evokes visions of dry parched riverbeds and hot arid lands. All that has now changed due to Rajendra Singh, the founder of Tarun Bharat Sangh. The organisation has worked tirelessly to make many regions of Rajasthan drought-free. Rajendra Singh’s journey began in Gopalpura, a small village in Alwar district, where he built a johad, a small earthen check dam. The next year the village wells had water even in the summer. Following this success, another johad was built that resulted in the Arvari River, dead for 40 years, to flow again. To date 4,500 johads have been built in 800 villages in Rajasthan, bringing back to life the Ruparel, Bhagwani, Sarsa and Jahajwali rivers. In 2005, Rajendra Singh also established a water university called Tarun Jal Vidyapeeth in Alwar district. The University aims to help farmers better understand the intricacies of effective water management and evolve financiallyviable, socially-acceptable and ecologicallysustainable solutions to water crises. 40

AT SCHOOL & AT WORK Conserve water at home, at school and at work. Organise a tree planting activity. Spread the message of water conservation. WHEN TRAVELLING Do not buy bottled water; carry what you need for the journey from home. Do not throw garbage into freshwater sources like rivers when on picnics. Do not use plastic bags to throw puja offerings (nirmalya) into the sea. Better still, like many temples you can also compost your puja offerings to use as an organic fertiliser in your garden.
It takes about 3 litres of groundwater to make one litre of bottled water.




Shree Padre “Those who know the value of water call it as ‘jeevjal’. It is the basis of life. If somebody were asked to point fingers at the major reason for the water crisis, the finger would turn to each one of us. The root of the problem lies with each one of us disowning our responsibilities towards water”, writes Shree Padre in his book Rain Water Harvesting. His forum Jalakoota documents details of successful rainwater harvesting initiatives that he conveys to thousands of farmers in Karnataka and Kerala who have benefited from his articles and campaigns. He is popularly known as the ' Rain Man of Canara Coast ' having written 10 books, conducted more than 450 slide shows and traveled 30,000 kms to spread the message of rainwater harvesting to people. “If water scarcity splits people, rain harvesting brings them together” says Shree Padre.


1860 - Indian Penal Code, Under Section 277 any person fouling water of public spring or reservoir is to be penalised. 1974 - The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act: Provides for prevention and control of water pollution and maintaining or restoring wholesomeness of water. It establishes standards for water quality and effluents. Polluting industries must seek permission to discharge waste into effluent bodies. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was constituted under this Act. 1977 - The Water Cess Act: Central and State Governments have to provide funds for CPCB and SPCBs for implementing provisions of the Act. 1986 - Environment Protection Act: authorises the Central Government to protect the environment to maintain certain water quality standards and prevent water pollution. Ground water legislation: The Central Ground Water Authority has been constituted under Section 3 (3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to regulate and control development and management of ground water resources in India. Rain Water Harvesting Legislation: This has been enacted in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.


WEBSITES: The Environmental Information Service provides information on a whole range of environmental issues. The Centre for Science and Environment website is an excellent resource for environmental issues and possible solutions. This website has a a good database of information and data covering various water-related issues in India. This website is an international network of water specialists and organisations that has information on world water issues. The International Coral Reef Action Network covers issues and information about coral reefs around the world. The International Ocean Institute website is dedicated to preserving the health of the world’s oceans.


ORGANISATIONS: Water Resource Management: Tarun Bharat Sangh Tel: +91-1465-225043 Email: Website: Information: Eureka Forbes Institute of Environment Tel: +91-22-2430 1725 Email: Website: Marine Conservation: Reefwatch Email: Website: Rainwater Harvesting: KRG Rainwater Harvesting Foundation Tel: +91-44- 2621 5060/554 93117 Email: Website:

For information, contact: Centre for Environmental Research and Education Email: Website: 45


ISBN 978-81-902018-0-3


This Series of 6 Information Booklets on Environmental Sustainability includes the titles: Waste & I Water & I Energy & I Biodiversity & I Citizenship & I Climate Change & I

The Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CERE) is a Mumbai-based non-profit organisation that works to promote environmental sustainability.