Water quality and the availability of fresh water are serious concerns across the globe and threatens to disrupt life on the planet. India, too, has serious water woes, some of which were recently captured in an independent study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

Titled “Reuse of Treated Wastewater in India: Market Potential and Recommendations for Strengthening Governance”, its authors Nitin Bassi, Saiba Gupta and Kartikey Chaturvedi offered some pertinent solutions.

Putting into context

Using the Central Pollution Control Board’s 2021 data, the report reflected on the fact that India treats only 28 per cent of the total sewage it generates per day from its urban areas. Of the 72,368 million litres per day (mld) of sewage produced in these areas, only 20,236 mld is actually treated. Tier-1 and -2 cities, which make up 72 per cent of the urban population, produce an estimated 38,254 mld of sewage, of which only 30 per cent is actually treated.

The report assessed that India will produce over 35,000 million cubic meters of wastewater by 2050, and currently, only 10 States have treated wastewater reuse policies. The CEEW researchers analysed — using Central Water Commission estimates — that 11 of the 15 major river basins are likely to face water stress by 2025. They felt it was “essential to explore alternative sources of water to address the demand-supply gap.”

‘Tremendous potential’

So, what revelations did the study lead to? The researchers figured that there was a “tremendous potential” to reuse wastewater. They came to the conclusion that “reusing treated wastewater for irrigation could have generated 28 million metric tonnes of fruit and vegetable produce and ₹96600 crore in revenue in 2021 alone. Further, using wastewater for irrigation in 2021 would have saved 1.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and ₹5 crore in fertilizer use.”

Further, they premised that the “market value of treated wastewater in India will be ₹83 crore in 2025 and Rs ₹190 crore in 2050 if we have the mechanism to sell it to select sectors.”

Basically, the report is an attempt to make stakeholders aware of the potential of treating wastewater. Nitin Bassi, Programme Lead, CEEW, identifies irrigation as a major beneficiary. He says, “There is a huge market potential for reusing it for irrigation alone, provided financially viable models are developed to scale up wastewater treatment and reuse.”