Challenges of supplying clean drinking water and the scope for development of new water purification technologies were discussed at a recent Jaipur conference

Unabsorbed pharmaceuticals in the human body find their way to wastewater streams after being excreted, they develop drug resistance in bacteria and their presence in water may cause mutation in the human DNA. This fact was highlighted by bio-scientist P.P. Bhakre at a national conference on water quality management in Jaipur recently.

Pointing out that 50 to 90 per cent of administered pharmaceuticals are released into waste water, Dr. Bhakre especially warned about the non-metabolised part of chemotherapy drugs that are used for treatment of cancer patients. Such drugs reach wastewater and may kill the normal cells of people who use this water after treatment from water bodies such as rivers and lakes — calling for the development of an alternative system to dispose of the unused pharmaceutical drugs.

The three-day conference discussed the challenges of supplying clean and adequate water to the people of Rajasthan as well as the scope for development of new technologies for purification of water for domestic use. Ninety per cent of the total groundwater in the desert State is used in the agricultural sector and the rest 10 per cent is used for domestic supply.

The event was organised jointly by the Malviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT), Jaipur and the Communication & Capacity Development Unit (CCDU) of the State’s Water Resources Department. The State government has decided to use perennial sources of water for civic water supply because of the presence of fluoride in groundwater.

Representatives of the Environmental Management Centre, Mumbai, emphasised the need for developing new technologies for water purification, while pointing out that a dollar invested in water quality management has returns of at least three times in the State’s economic development.

The deliberations covered chemical and biological aspects of water quality management, contamination in distribution system, domestic devices for water and wastewater treatment. Paediatrician Sunil K. Gupta discussed the health aspects of fluorosis and nitrate toxicity from drinking water and threw light on hazardous effects of nitrates and fluoride content present in water.

In a presentation on membrane-base technologies for water and wastewater treatment, the example of Dubai was cited in the context of seawater being treated there using a sequential process of conventional and membrane-based methods. Since membrane-based technologies are not based on chemical treatment, they can rightly be termed green technologies.

The keynote address on “water purification technologies”, delivered by P.K. Tiwari, head, desalination division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, pointed out that water treatment segment in India was estimated to be of the size of $15 billion and was growing at the rate of 18 per cent every year. The gross wastewater generated in the country is 35,000 million litres per day (MLD) and is predicted to reach 83,000 MLD in 2050. Looking at its potential reuse, there is a vast scope for research in wastewater treatment.

The Rajasthan government has invited technical education institutions as knowledge partners if they have expertise to investigate and deliver right solutions for water quality problems. The MNIT plans to reuse 70 per cent of its treated wastewater on the campus to reduce the requirement for fresh water.

A reference to the traditional source of water supply to the Walled City of Jaipur — Ramgarh Lake — drying up was also made at the conference, while the participants suggested the use of membrane thermal desalination for the purification of water in the rural areas which lack adequate power supply.

Presenting the Rajasthan perspective of the national rural drinking water quality monitoring and surveillance, CCDU director Hemant Joshi highlighted the plans for maintaining water quality in the State and said the quality had been affected because of overexploitation of ground water sources.

Pankaj Mathur of Rajasthan office of UNICEF said the World Health Organisation and UNICEF had chalked out a joint monitoring programme for water supply and sanitation.

According to the 2011 Census data on drinking water access, five out of 20 persons do not have access to improved drinking water sources in the country. Besides, open defecation results in direct contamination of sources of water supply.

A panel discussion at the conference led to a view that the technical institutions such as Indian Institutes of Technology, National Institutes of Technology and engineering colleges must join hands to fill up the knowledge gaps to resolve the issue of water quality.

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