The third longest river in India, River Krishna, flows through the state of Maharashtra and meets the Bay of Bengal in the end. The regions of Satara and Sangli receive its bounty. It brings with its riches but there’s more to it. The public blames the sugar industries and the environmental scientists blame the people for the river’s pollution. What is the truth?
One of my relatives hails from Sangli and he explained to me what the reality is. Sangli’s co-operative sector has ten sugar factories and the industrial sector has the other ten. He complained that his family and the people around were falling sick due to water pollution caused by the sugar industries in the area. Unsure where he got that information from, I called up the pollution control board to assess the situation. Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) denied that the pollution could have been caused by the sugar industry.
To study and manage water, the Watershed Atlas of India provides a systematic picture of the river basins in the form of watershed maps. Water takes various shapes on the land before it becomes a river. Rainfall from the mountain overflows down into what are called ‘catchments’. A group of these catchments form ‘sub-watersheds’. A group of sub-watersheds forms a ‘watershed’ and a group of watersheds forms a ‘basin’.
In the Watershed Atlas of India, entire river systems of the country have been divided into six Water Resources Regions, which have been further divided into 35 basins and 112 catchments. These catchments are further divided into 500 sub-catchments and 3237 watersheds. Basins, catchments, and watersheds are hydrological units that provide a system boundary for analysis. Analysis such as the computation of water balance parameters helps in the implementation of water management schemes.
The Central Pollution Control Board of India (CPCB) collaborates with the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) concerned with the river basins in their jurisdiction. In the case of Krishna river, it is the pollution control boards of the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh get involved.
As some of the water goes underground, known as groundwater, two kinds of monitoring are performed – surface water monitoring and groundwater monitoring. In India, surface water monitoring is done on a monthly or quarterly basis and on a half yearly basis in the case of groundwater. The monitoring network in the country covers 445 Rivers, 154 Lakes, 12 Tanks, 78 Ponds, 41 Creeks/Seawater, 25 Canals, 45 Drains, 10 Water Treatment Plant (Raw Water) and 807 Wells. Among the 2500 stations, 1275 are on rivers, 190 on lakes, 45 on drains, 41 on canals, 12 on tanks, 41 on creeks/seawater, 79 on ponds, 10 Water Treatment Plant (Raw Water) and 807 are groundwater stations.
These stations use certain parameters to infer the quality of water. One of the parameters is Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD). BOD is ‘a measure of the oxygen utilized by micro-organisms during the oxidation of organic materials’. It indicates the amount of organic material present in water or the amount of organic waste in it. Drinking water usually has a BOD of less than 1 mg/l, and water is considered fairly pure with a BOD of 3 mg/l. But, when the BOD value reaches 5 mg/l, the water is of doubtful purity. Below is a picture of the water quality trend of the BOD of River Krishna. On average, looking at the mean values, it looks fairly pure. That doesn’t mean it has been this way the whole time. It has gone through spikes, as seen from the maximum values, which means it has been highly impure during those times. Why has the water gone from pure to impure, and to the extent that it reaches values like 17 mg/l?
Other than BOD, there are other important parameters such as Dissolved Oxygen (DO) and Coliform levels that are looked into. Below graphs show the results from the water quality monitoring stations in Maharashtra. Drinking water should have Total Coliforms (TC) to be 50 MPN/100 ml or less and DO to be 6 mg/l or more. The graphs show unevenness in this regard. The DO is hanging low from 6 mg/l and TC is seen shooting way higher than 50 MPN/100 ml.
Coliform bacteria are organisms that are present in the environment and in the feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. Coliform bacteria will not likely cause illness. However, their presence in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms (pathogens) could be in the water system.
Clearly, the water is not of the right quality and it is either the industries or the people that are contributing to it or both. Here’s a screenshot of an annual report (2004-05) that talks about the steps taken to improve the water quality of this river.