Can recycled and treated sewage water ever be feasible in India ?

Sangeeta Deogawanka, a frequent contributor to the Portal, sent us this tongue-in-cheek piece on how recycling of sewage water might be received in India. (We welcome contributions from all readers to the India Water Portal blog ! Write to ) When I read this article on the world's largest water recycling facility in Orange County, U.S.A., it got me wondering.

Can such a water utility ever be feasible in India? Perhaps no. The first deterrent would be a religious recoil from the very idea. The scientific and pragmatic folks would then come to the fore with suitable pontifications. Wasn't the Municipality water nothing other than river water recycled for drinking? Didn't everything from dead corpses and sewage to industrial effluents constitute river water? This would next assume political overtones, with our awfully conscientious public sentinels in the various Water, PWD and Health Departments, citing possibilities of widespread endemic diseases. The various environmental minders would also begin an aggressive awareness campaign on the need for re-cycling sewage water. Perhaps adopt the slogan "Treat sewage water to provide every Indian with drinking water". Various community groups would countermand this by taking to the road with placards on "What are you drinking?"and "Toilet water into Tap water?"Online and offline signature campaigns would become the order of the day. Media and photo-journalists from all over would converge here to outdo all previous shots of the quintessential Indian village woman carrying water on her head (with a barely clad child in her arms). Researchers would come forward with their findings hitherto only published in foreign journals. Committees and sub-committees would be appointed to look into the various issues concerning recycling of sewage water. Public utilities would beg to differ on the accountability arising out of power snaps and voltage fluctuations, bound to affect the purification process. To effectively utilize the plant capacities, a dictum would need to be made, to the effect of 'increase your flushes per day'. What flushes? Most don't have toilets, let alone flushes installed. Debates would continue. Conflicts may erupt between the various public utility departments and community forums. With some parliamentary pandemonium thrown in, for the DoorDarshan viewers. As suddenly, all controversies would die a sudden death. A Rainwater Harvesting Ministry would be born and work in tandem with several civic departments and climatologists. It would serve to effectively utilize the plentiful Indian monsoon rains and use the run-offs from roofs and road channels to replenish the groundwater aquifers. Monetary incentives would be awarded to those with minimum usage shown on the personal water meters. Companies manufacturing vegetarian goodies would get tax holidays and those of 'red-marked' food stuff heavily taxed , as the latter belongs to the water-intensive sector. Multinationals would secretly laugh all the way to the bank, it is merely a matter of juggling accounts for them , after all they control all agricultural lands and food malls. The great plan for recycling sewage water would thus be suitably squashed just as in San Diego "when the recycling issue became politicized and the public turned away from the idea of turning toilet water into tap water." Moral of the story : Use water sparingly, re-cycle water domestically, practice rainwater harvesting, lest you are compelled to go the Orange County way.