Thursday, October 29, 2009

Contaminated Water Supply in Goa

Goa has long been facing a problem of contaminated water, but the response of the authorities is tardy, says FREDDY DIAS in Herald October 29, 2009

Water is essential for life. We need to drink at least 2.5 litres of water daily, which means that every individual consumes nearly 68,475 litres of water in a lifetime. As the population continues to explode and with the rapid pace of industrialisation and development, our requirement for clean and safe drinking water continues to grow.

In Goa, besides the constant interruptions, we have been intermittently facing the problem of contamination of drinking water supply since the last several years. Repeated complaints made to the Water Supply Department (WSD) are either sloppily attended to, or ignored altogether.

The problem of interruption and contamination of drinking water has been plaguing the residents of the state, particularly during the spring and summer months of the year. Not only the cities and towns, but a large number of rural areas too, particularly those along the coastal belt, have been facing the problem of drinking water mixed with dirt, sewage and, in some cases, even worms and tiny insects. Besides, according to recent reports, available drinking water has many more impurities like fluoride, nickel, sulphates, etc. Whatever precautionary measures are claimed to have taken by the authorities concerned, it remains toxic, the effects of which are evident in the form of gastro-intestinal and kidney disorders. The problem is more acute in Goa, where people consume more water because of the tropical weather.

In many rural areas, thousands of people are suffering from skin diseases caused by poor quality of water. Growing industrialisation, mining and widespread use of pesticides are believed to be the reasons behind the deterioration in the quality of water and falling water tables. In fact, in many villages all over the state, drinking contaminated water has become a part of life. Drinking water projects are undertaken at high cost and inaugurated with much fanfare in the state, but if the regular outbreaks of water-borne diseases in the urban areas are any indication, what happens elsewhere can easily be imagined. The drinking water supplied by the government is often found not fit for human consumption, as proved by many cases of typhoid, cholera, dysentery and gastro-enteritis in the state during the last several years.

Doctors at various government as well as private hospitals and clinics say that they have been regularly treating patients for diarrhoea and vomiting. According to doctors, Goa experiences at least two or three bouts of typhoid, cholera and gastro-enteritis every year. There are increasing incidents of jaundice too since the last many years. The most likely cause is infection with the Hepatitis-E virus that is spread from one infected person to another because of contamination of drinking water mixed with sewage water. The disease has of late been spreading in slum areas due to unhygienic conditions there. The answer to this totally preventable outbreak is for the water supply and sanitation agencies to be vigilant. They have to ensure that there is no contamination, repair the leaking pipes, detect early indication of contamination and ensure adequate chlorination of final drinking water.

Tests conducted by some non-government organisations (NGOs) revealed that there was insufficient residual chlorine content to ensure that most disease-causing bacteria in the water will be destroyed. Due to poor maintenance, ignorance on the part of the staff and non-availability of spare parts, the department’s chlorinators are often declared to be out of order. This should be rectified by having adequate spare parts and keeping trained staff.

Besides, in spite of guidelines laid down by the Water Quality Assessment Authority (WQAA) and the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, the procedures adopted by the Water Supply Department to analyse water do not include specific parameters like odour, taste and colour, even as the Act makes such parameters mandatory. In fact, it is pointed out that reports prepared by the WSD fail to outline important parameters like chemical oxygen demand (COD), biological oxygen demand (BOD), and total hardness and manganese content as stipulated in the manual of procedures for water treatment under the Public Health Engineering (PHE) department.

A senior official of the state Water Supply Department (WSD), while admitting that during weekly collection of water samples from various supply junctions they did find occasional evidence of contamination mostly due to mud content, maintained that necessary precautions are taken to maintain the minimum level of residual chlorine, and that the WSD was chlorinating the state’s drinking water at various supply points. If there was no human meddling like shutdowns, puncturing of pipes, etc, the chlorine content in the water would be enough.

According to the WSD official, the reason for the murkiness of water, particularly during the monsoons, is due to large-scale of washing of mining rejects into the dams/reservoirs, which increases the turbidity level. The high mud content in drinking water cannot be reduced beyond a certain limit, but extra chlorine was being added, and bacteriological tests conducted by the department have certified that the water is safe for human consumption.The Chairman of the Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) Simon de Souza said that the board has increased the frequency of water testing to check for traces of heavy minerals, including manganese and sulphates, in the silt washed into the dams/reservoirs, which is caused due to mines operating in the catchment areas of the reservoirs. According to de Souza, massive quantities of mining silt is being washed into the reservoir’s catchment areas, on account of which inspections and examinations of water by the GSPCB will be held every month for the next year, in order to keep a close check on pollution level in drinking water supply in the State.

Notwithstanding the assurance given by the authorities to improve the filtration and treatment process at the Xelpem water treatment plant in view of increased water turbidity for consumers of South Goa district, the problem still persists on and off. Recently, the Navelim Civic & Consumer Forum, in a letter to the WSD authorities, termed the supply of muddy water as ‘irresponsibility on the part of the government and demanded that the authorities should immediately ascertain that the quality of water is fit for human consumption before distributing it to the consumers. Similarly, activists of Civic & Consumer Forums of Colva, Davorlim and Ganv Ghor Rakhan Manch of Orlim have stressed the importance of developing suitable technologies to ensure safe and potable drinking water supply to citizens.

It is pertinent to note here that a notification issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest stresses on water quality assessment and monitoring protocol in order to maintain uniformity in water quality monitoring procedures by all agencies, departments, pollution control boards, etc. “The uniform process of water quality monitoring shall provide for parameters for analyses, analytical techniques, quality assurance and quality control system, besides infrastructure required for laboratories, procedures for data processing, reporting and dissemination,” states the notification. Consumers and consumer organisations can, therefore, complain against the department regarding contaminated water supply to the Consumer Redressal Forum and also to the Special Grievances Cell in the Pollution Control Board. Consumer societies can also arrange for frequently testing of drinking water samples to protect consumer interest.

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