Sunday, October 25, 2009

Supplying Water

I did my bachelors in civil engineering. This meant that somewhere in the third year, we had a course on supplying water.

Now designing a water distribution system is a fairly simple process. First, you estimate the population. If you’re designing for the future, you might use a 25 or 50 year projection of what the population will be. Then there are standards for the per capita consumption. Standards for how many water outlets each house should have, what the pressure at these outlets must be.

Once all this design data is known, you design the water supply system so that water is available at all these outlets in the desired quantity and at the desired pressure head.

But there is something fundamentally wrong with this approach. It assumes that adequate amount of water is available for you to supply water 24x7 in this manner. In India, this is hardly ever the case.

In India, in most regions, water is available in a very limited quantity. My own house in Indore gets water for about 1 to 1.5 hours every alternate day. That too at a pressure that can’t even rise above the ground floor. Different regions of the city get water at different times and in different quantities.

Clearly, what needs to be designed by the engineer is not what is taught in the classroom. We need to learn how to schedule the water supply. We need to learn how to prioritize supply regions, supply times and supply volumes. Of course, none of this is taught. Most probably because that kind of knowledge doesn’t even exist.

I know that water is a big political issue in India. Who gets water and when and how much they get it is largely a political decision. But even in an ideal world, where one would want to ensure equitable and optimum distribution of water, the know how to do it doesn’t even exist. I find that somewhat disturbing.


  1. While I agree with the general point about the need for more scientific management of resources, or more enterprising engineers, I do think the problem is largely on of political interference and lack of initiative. There is a lot of research into irrigation management with limited water supplies, which can presumably be adapted to municipal water supply management as well.

    On the plus side, ever since I've been home, the electricity supply is quite well regulated with staggered scheduled power cuts over various regions of the city, and there's been just one unscheduled power cut in the last couple of months. So, I guess there's hope ...

  2. @Shanth - Indeed. What I was getting at here is -

    1. Lack of indigenous research. Only one paper in the link you provided is from India. Civil engg. problems are extremely local and local research is very very important.

    2. The disconnect between the classroom and the 'real world'.

    3. Perhaps, but I'm not sure, a tendency to 'import' technology, even though it might not solve your problems. Perhaps I'll write about it in detail, but traffic flow theory suddenly seems to make a lot more sense here in the US than it ever did in India.

    Having said that, the problem is primarily political. The way civil engg. works at the city level in Indore makes me want to puke.