An urban water and sanitation management strategy for Kerala

Points for approach to discussion:

Each city of Kerala is unique and distinct from the other. A  Kochi cannot be compared with a Thrissur . Every city will have to have its own unique strategy based on its physical location, its closeness to a river, its hydro-geological setting, its density of population, its rainfall and pattern, its socio-economic context etc . Hence each city should be encouraged to develop its own water and waste-water development plan.

However a broader generic approach could consider the following in the development of its water masterplan.

Kerala has the single largest density of open wells for any place on earth. Groundwater, aquifers and wells should be at the heart of any urban water management strategy.

Buildings should be located without disturbing aquifers and their storage capacity. No basements, double basements should be allowed anywhere.

All plots and buildings must be mandated to have at least one open well and recharge the same with rainwater

Kerala has the largest amount of rainfall for any state in India and should make best use of rainwater

All buildings must harvest rainwater to full potential and in a combination of storage and recharge make first use of rainwater for consumption. Second charge must be on shallow aquifers through wells and only then must water from greater distances be considered

The biggest challenge for urbanization is the sanitation challenge in Kerala

Thanks to a culture of good sanitation but a lack of development of technologies Kerala has the single largest density of septic tanks for any state in India. This coupled with the dependence on shallow aquifers means that the open wells are always under threat of contamination. All large buildings must therefore be mandated to have Waste-Water treatment plants and the treated waste-water must be of sufficient quality to be reused for non-potable purpose within the building.

No pollution of groundwater or rivers should be allowed from domestic waste-water. Further sludge management centres need to be opened where the solid waste from septic tanks can be safely composted and reused as fertilizer.

Green plumbing code

The Indian Plumbing Association has developed the green plumbing code and this has been accepted by the government of India. This code ensure efficient use of all devices such as taps, showers and flushes, the use of pipes and appurtenances which are green and eco-friendly , the use of dual plumbing systems , one for treated waste-water and one for fresh water etc. This should be quickly adopted and mandated for the state.

Metering of each flat, volumetric pricing capturing both the social and economic costs of water, monitoring and measuring groundwater extraction are all steps that can easily be taken.

A water and waste-water literacy centre

In Bangalore a rainwater harvesting theme park has been established. This provides the citizens of Bangalore with a place where they can see for themselves the technological choices available vis-à-vis rainwater harvesting. Here they can also get a free design for rainwater harvesting from trained engineers. They also get a reference to trained plumbers to get the works executed.

Kerala can consider setting up a water and waste-water literacy unit, perhaps attached to the NirmithiKendras, for each city operated by CWRDM. Thereby providing assistance to citizens to get a good design for water and sanitation for their homes. Plumbers can also be trained to develop and offer their skill to citizens.

River basin institutions

Kerala has some of the highest number of rivers for any state, with 44 rivers, though of short lengths yet they carry copious amounts of rainwater and are under threat from many sources. One of them is sand mining which comes essentially the need for sand for buildings in urban areas. The second Is from pollution where waste-water is led into the streams and rivers untreated.

By creating a river basin institution for each of Kerala’srivers, it will be possible to model the impact of development on each of them and understand the pressures that are coming on them. With understanding can come appropriate action to the concerned local authorities to help mitigate and overcome problems? Creating a participatory river basin institution for each river would be a good step to manage rivers and water for the requirement of all.


S.Vishwanath, partner Excelkerala,

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