Water Quality: An issue not treated seriously


April, 2021

Water Quality: An issue not treated seriously

by Ankita Yadav

Groundwater pollution has become a serious concern worldwide, the anthropogenic and geo-genic (natural phenomena) pressures being the major reasons. Human lifestyles in residential and municipal areas, commercial and industrial activities and the growing demand for agriculture are the main contributors to groundwater contamination. India is the largest consumer of groundwater with an average yearly consumption of 230 Km3 (>25% of global total) per year, and almost 85% share of India’s total drinking water supply is from groundwater[1]. The World Bank estimate in the year 2005 warned that already about 15 percent of all aquifers are in critical condition in India, a number which will grow to 60 percent in the next 25 years (i.e., the year 2030). Overexploitation and poor management of groundwater resources put rural communities at a growing risk of poor groundwater quality. In the semi-arid area, the projected near-future climate change show impacts such as increasing drought-like situations, unseasonal weather variability and rising temperatures. In future, the demand for groundwater is likely to increase, which will further deteriorate the water quality substantially. The polluted water causes human health problems, crop production loss and ultimately increases the poverty level. Further, to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs – 3, 6, 13 and 15), protection of groundwater quality and quantity is important. Hence, it is imperative to study and monitor the geochemical properties of groundwater for the sustainable usage of water.

A number of scientific studies have been attempted evaluating the geochemical properties of groundwater for its suitability to drinking and irrigation needs. However, only little efforts are taken by NGOs, private agencies and government departments to capacitate local communities to test and monitor water quality parameters. In the last few years, Central and State governments are taking concrete steps for streamlining water quality components through major schemes and programs such as Jal Jeevan Mission and Atal Bhujal Yojana. Locally, Grampanchayat bodies are also now getting involved in frequent monitoring of water quality than in the last decade.

Despite this, the lack of basic information on water quality, its contamination and preventive measures amongst local water users have created a wide gap in addressing demand-side challenges. The active participation of primary water users is essential toward the long-term sustainability of aquifers. To work towards this direction, in recent years, a new approach is proposed called “socio-hydrogeology” – a discipline that embeds the social dimension into hydro-geological and hydro-geochemical investigations to solve water issues.

Considering above facts, an activity was proposed for groundwater quality assessment of drinking purpose based on the physico-chemical properties, to map variations over pre-monsoon (PRM) and post-monsoon (POM) seasons and an attempt was made to integrate the socio-hydrogeology approach.

Water Quality – An integral component of Water Management plans

From continuous interactions with communities through research studies and project implementation activities such as Net Planning, Watershed Development, Hydrogeological investigation, Water Stewardship, Climate Smart Agriculture and Climate Change Adaptation, we realized the strong need for awareness generation capacity building and training of primary water users. People should not only be aware of local water quality status, but they should also be able to test the quality of their drinking water source, regular monitoring and take actions in case of contamination is detected.

With this view, when we incorporated ‘Water Quality’ as an integral component of water management plans and delivered knowledge during stakeholder engagement workshops, communities themselves took interest to arrange more awareness workshops and training for their villages, sought equipment for testing and monitoring and also requested support in learning action to control contamination and prevention measures.

Looking at this field need, Watershed Organisation Trust – Centre for Resilience Studies (W-CReS) started the activity of training the field staff and village youth to test the water quality and periodically monitor the same to observe the variation. On the pilot level, 240 villages were selected where ‘Water Stewardship’[2] is implemented as a comprehensive project that includes Water resource-based governance and institution building, supply and demand-side management, equity and sustainability measures. Geographically these villages are located in semi-arid regions of Pathardi, Sangamner and Parner (rain-shadow zone) and Akole (High rainfall zone) blocks of Ahmednagar district, Bhoom and Paranda blocks of Osmanabad district (plateau assured rainfall zone), Ashti block of Beed, Bhokardan and Ambad block of Jalna (all in assured rainfall zone).

One or two representative members for a village or a cluster of villages are selected who have background on activities being implemented in their villages, know demographic and physiographic details of the village particularly the water resources, general awareness of Watershed development, and able to understand technical aspects of the water quality assessment.

Hands on training of the field staff on ‘On-field water testing using portable multi-parameter test kit’
How is it done?

A portable multi-parameter drinking water test kit is handy, user-friendly equipment used for qualitative to semi-qualitative water quality assessment and can be taken directly to the field for immediate sample testing. The application of such water testing kits is high, especially for rural areas where the availability of good quality drinking water has been the topic of grave concern. At the same time, the training of ‘use of water quality field test kits’ has emerged as prominent aspect of capacity building.

To develop the sense of ownership and build the capacity of the field investigators, the training on ‘On-field water testing using portable multi-parameter test kit’ was organized on 20th June 2020 and 25th June 2020 in two batches. The training was conducted using ‘Zoom’ online meeting platform, where all the participants joined the training virtually. The test kits were transported to respective monitoring locations prior to the training schedule so that field staff can go through the manuals and get handy parts of the equipment. During the training, testing of 7 physic-chemical parameters like pH, Turbidity, Nitrate, Iron, Total Hardness, Chloride and Alkalinity was demonstrated with a simultaneous hands-on test done on the field by the participants. The selection criteria of two drinking water wells were also explained along with the details of sampling procedure. Common/community or Grampanchayat drinking water wells (could be bore well/hand-pump or dug well) are essentially selected for the testing. The tests were repeated, and queries by the participants were solved immediately. Material on detailed sampling and testing methodology was provided to participants for future reference in the local language (Marathi).

The same field staff was instructed to collect the first data set of water quality testing for PRM season (between 21st to 30th June; year 2020 observed delay in onset of Monsoon in study areas). The second data set (POM) is collected during 15th of February 2021 to 10th of March 2021. The data is collected in prescribed format with static data of Well ID, its location (latitude, longitude and elevation), owner details and its usage, etc.

Observations and Learning

Looking at the outcomes after almost nine months of the training, we feel that the training became successful in its objective to train and capacitate field staff. The staff has become very confident with handling the water samples and the testing materials to do the chemical analysis without external support. With due course of time having the connection with local water quality issues, sample testing and reporting, the staff has gained more insightful experience and looked for more information on water quality aspects.

This knowledge and information collected is disseminated to the villagers informally by the staff on a regular basis and also inform them to take necessary collective actions if the water quality is non-potable. These recommendations include measures such as shifting to alternate clean, unpolluted and safe drinking water source, recharge with unpolluted water for dilution, application of natural (e.g. – alum) and chemical filters (e.g. – Chlorine), household filtration, boiling of water, etc.

Villagers as well are giving dynamic response to this activity by coming ahead with more important water quality issues which they did not realize for the past many years and suffered through health problems such as diarrhea, cholera, Hepatitis A, typhoid, etc. These villagers, along with field staff, are seeking more support for preventive measures and continuation of testing over a longer period.

Way forward

To address field needs, we are planning series of next steps viz. broader level awareness workshops, mapping of water quality vulnerable zones, identification of contamination sources, informing the results back to communities through info-briefs and graphics, disseminating scientific preventive measures in stakeholder engagement workshops for participatory management and collective actions at the village level, the continuation of water quality testing for multiple seasons, and enforcing water quality based regulations at local governing institutions.

Prevention of pollution at the source has to be done in order to limit spatial contamination. Additional supporting scientific research and field validation is required to understand the complete contamination dynamics of the region. IEC tools, sensory or perpetual games or techniques will be prepared with the use of pre-existing modules and manuals. More robust multi-parameter field water testing kits are essential for frequent monitoring, of which we are currently in the phase of procurement.

[1] Pahuja, Sanjay, et al. “Deep wells and prudence: towards pragmatic action for addressing groundwater overexploitation in India.” Deep wells and prudence: towards pragmatic action for addressing groundwater overexploitation in India. (2010).

[2] https://wotr.org/publication/a-step-towards-quenching-rural-indias-thirst-experiences-and-learnings-from-the-water-stewardship-initiative-in-maharashtra/

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