Delhi’s 'lifeline' in troubled waters once again

Factories around Panipat continue to pump ammonia into the Yamuna in Delhi, forcing DJB to shut two water plants recently.

Published: 09th November 2020 08:27 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th November 2020 08:27 AM   |  A+A-

Yamuna River

The lack of a minimum ecological flow also means an accumulation of other pollutants in river Yamuna. (Photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)

Express News Service

While BJP targets Kejriwal govt for failing to supply ‘24x7 clean water’, AAP blames Haryana for not taking enough steps to check pollution.

Delhi’s recur ring problem is back. Every year, between October and January, the concentration of ammonia in the river Yamuna spikes to dangerous levels, leaving the residents with dry taps for at least two-three days. And it’s the same story this year as well.

Like always, the reason is the industrial discharge from Haryana, say officials. Even as the national capital struggled to tackle the deteriorating air quality — another annual affair — and the surging Covid-19 cases, the ammonia levels in Yamuna, flowing into Delhi from Haryana, had in the last week of October reached nearly 3 parts per million (ppm) — almost six times above the acceptable limit of 0.5 ppm, forcing the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to temporarily shut the water treatment plants at Sonia Vihar and Bhagirathi.

With the rise in the level of ammonia, many residents in parts of the city complained of dirty water. On October 29, as the concentration of ammonia levels shot up above the acceptable levels, DJB’s vice-chairperson Raghav Chadha tweeted:“Due to an abnormal increase in pollutants (ammonia levels) in the Yamuna raw water discharged by Haryana, production at Sonia Vihar and Bhagirithi Water Treatment Plants will be adversely impacted.”

He added: “As a result, water supply will be affected in parts of East, North East and South Delhi. It is advised to store/ use water judiciously. Adequate numbers of water tankers are being deployed. We are working relentlessly, in collaboration with Haryana, to restore normal supply.”

The DJB, in a statement, said that the water supply would be available at low pressure till the ammonia level comes down in the river.

“As the flow from the Upper Ganga canal is stopped due to the closure for its annual maintenance. It is observed the flow in both conduits Sonia Vihar and Bhagirathi plants are also very less the same as last year during the maintenance of the canal. Also, the ammonia levels are speedily and suddenly increasing in the Yamuna river. So, the production of Bhagirathi Plant and Sonia Vihar plants may get affected due to which clear water will be available at low pressure till the ammonia level reduces in Yamuna River,” the statement said.

However, two days later, the affected water treatment plants began working at 50 per cent capacity.

Affected areas

Due to the shutting down of Sonia Vihar and Bhagirathi water treatment plants, the areas in parts of south Delhi, east Delhi, north-east Delhi and parts of the North MCD that were badly affected included Gokulpuri, Sonia Vihar, Karawal Nagar, Babarpur, Tahirpur, Dilshad Garden, Nandnagari, Shahdara, Laxmi Nagar, Geeta Colony, Mayur Vihar, Kondli, Vivek Vihar, Seelampur, Shastri Park, Bhrampuri, Gandhi Nagar, Sarai Kale Khan, Okhla, Badarpur, Sarita Vihar, Vasant Kunj, Mehrauli, Greater Kailash, South Extn, Lajpat Nagar, Lodhi Road and Kaka Nagar.

Double trouble

Delhi’s water supply is dependent on two outlets — the Ganga (through Ganga canal, which goes to east Delhi) and the Yamuna (through western Yamuna canal and some of it through the river at Wazirabad). It is mostly the river Yamuna which often sees a rise in the level of ammonia owing to which the water treatment plants are forced to shut down almost every year.

However, to add more trouble to the annual affair, the Upper Ganga Canal was shut on October 15 for its annual maintenance purpose. Usually, the raw water from the Ganga Canal or Munak Canal is used to dilute in high ammonia concentrated water of the Yamuna. When this option is not available, the plants are shut for prechlorination. 

“The flow from the Upper Ganga Canal was stopped due to annual maintenance, which impacts the supply of water to Delhi. So, we’re in constant talks with the governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and are seeking their cooperation. We need to understand that Delhi is a land-locked city. The water we get flows through other states as well. In such a case, if the level of ammonia increases, we will have to shut down our water treatment plants,” Chadha said.

Reason for ammonia rise

The water treatment plants under the Delhi government are capable of treating ammonia mixed water till .90 ppm. When it goes above it, the plants are shut for chlorination. The process takes around three days. 

However, in the absence of Ganga Canal water, it took more time to resolve the matter. 

According to officials, the water plants are, otherwise, often shut regularly, but that is for three to four hours. The reason primarily given by the Delhi government behind the rise of ammonia level is the industrial waste mixed in water from areas such as Panipat and Sonepat in Haryana.

“We are also discussing the issue with the Haryana government and collectively working to find an effective solution. We’ve also requested the UP government for its help,” said Chadha. Last year, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had asked the Haryana irrigation and flood control department to construct a wall or embankment between the drain number 6 and 8, which carry wastewater and freshwater respectively.

A study conducted by the CPCB and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) had also pointed out the mixing of the two canals increases the ammonia level. The CPCB had also asked the Haryana State Pollution Control Board to shut down hundreds of industries factories located in Yamuna Nagar, Panipat and Sonepat districts which are responsible for polluting the river. 

In April this year, the HSPCB went on to collect samples from various locations in the Panipat area and check pollution levels in the Yamuna.

A boatman rows throughtoxic foams in theYamuna at Kalindi Kunj
in New Delhi. (Photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)

Blaming AAP government

On Friday, the Delhi BJP, led by its president Adesh Kumar Gupta, staged a protest at the DJB headquarters over the water supply. He alleged that the Aam Aadmi Party came to power promising 24-hour clean water supply, but the residents were “forced” to drink ammonia- rich water. 

“Last year, when the levels of ammonia in the Yamuna river increased, CM Arvind Kejriwal had announced that 14 new STPs would be set up for which, Rs 4,206 crore were allocated, but not a single one has been set up. Experts have said that if the people of Delhi drink the ammonia- rich water for another 10 years, they may suffer from life-threatening diseases such as cancer,” said Gupta.

What’s the solution?

Last year, the DJB had approved some new projects for improving the water quality of Yamuna and increasing the quantity of supply. That included a new sewage treatment plant in Okhla which will be able to treat 124 million gallons of wastewater per day. The new sewage treatment plant (STP) will be set up under the Yamuna Action Plan — III scheme. The plant will treat the wastewater that goes into the Yamuna directly. Another 106-million gallons per day (MGD) water treatment plant (WTP) at Chandrawal has been approved which will help meet the demand of drinking water in the city and increase its capacity by 11 per cent more, claimed the DJB.

‘Centre should step in’

“The ammonia spike is an indicator that the industrial waste from Haryana is the main reason behind the river pollution. The Centre also needs to step in to solve the problem. The pollutants from Haryana need to stop,” said water activist Manoj Mishra.

Challenges for Capital

The DJB doesn’t have any dedicated technology to treat ammonia. Haryana, with a large number of people involved in agriculture, has water paucity issues of its own which can further aggravate the problem of supply to the national capital. The DJB mixes raw water that carries a high concentration of ammonia with fresh water, and the amount of chlorine added to disinfect raw water is increased as per requirements to address the issue. The lack of a minimum ecological flow also means an accumulation of other pollutants.

Three main types of pollution

The real plight of Yamuna starts when the river enters the capital. It covers almost 48 km from its entry into the city to its exit and most of its pollution comes in this stretch. The three main types of pollution in the Yamuna are sewage, industrial effluent and solid waste. In 2018, an expert committee appointed by the NGT reported that in the 22 km-stretch between Wazirabad and Okhla – which is just two per cent of its total length – it receives over 75 per cent of its entire pollution. Untreated sewage is the biggest pollutant which goes into the Yamuna river.


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