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The ongoing water scarcity in Maharashtra has started to be felt inside the IIT Bombay campus too. This year, the ‘Color Run’ organised every Holi has been cancelled. A recent email from GSHA urged “the students and Hostel representatives to take appropriate measures to avoid water wastage during Holi.” As we near ‘World Water Day’, this article looks at the issues of water scarcity on campus in the context of some specifics of our infrastructure, that the institute will have to reckon with.

Water Scarcity at IIT Bombay

Water Scarcity at IIT Bombay

The institute has faced the problem of water shortage for quite some time now, making a lot of people swear out aloud when the shower stops midway during a bath. The issue cropped up again in the last week of January, with MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, also known as Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation – BMC) shutting insti’s water supply on the morning of January 30th for the entire day without any notice, followed by a limited supply of water for subsequent days. Hostels 3 and 4 were the first ones to get affected by this cut, with absolutely no water in some wings. Later, it went on to hit hostels 6 and 16 severely, and gradually affecting rest of the hostels.

The BMC, in an attempt of contingency planning in case of poor rainfall this coming monsoon, has restricted the water supply for the whole city. As a consequence, the 24-hour water supply that the insti previously received has now come down by 8 hours, with cuts in supply from 4 am to 8 am and 2 pm to 6 pm.

The campus’ pipeline system was designed to work with a continuous water supply at adequate pressure levels, keeping in mind the elevations at which each hostel stands. However, in the current circumstance, this infrastructure has not been able to work efficiently owing to the reduced water pressure that is being received. Hostels 6 and 4 are the worst affected. Lying at higher elevations, they receive water supply only after all other hostels in the respective pipeline series have their tanks filled upto at least 50% of their capacities.

Hostels 15 and 16 have multiple tanks per wing, and due the complicated system of supply, it is not possible to regulate which tanks get filled first. Thus, while some wings might have water supply, others don’t. And as far as other hostels are considered, there is a common problem of overflow of tanks, as the valves and washers in place are of poor quality, which get worn out within about 15 days of use. Good quality equipments have often been reported to be misplaced by the plumbers, says the GSHA, and that it isn’t feasible to keep a regulatory body active to keep a check on them at all times. In hostels 12/13/14, there was an incident of shortage of hot water for mess work during this period, as it shares the hot water tank with H12, which got completely used up.

There are 9 borewells used to supply water to flush tanks and for gardening purposes in the old hostels. Groundwater is of hard nature, which can be harmful and cannot be used for chores involving body contact and drinking. HGSC (Hostel General Secretaries Committee) has met occasionally to discuss possible ways to treat and utilise this otherwise unusable water. Starting from April, one of these borewells has been decided to be worked upon and tested for a month, as untreated hard water may lead to various skin diseases.

The biggest challenge that comes before tackling the water shortage problem is the lack of data on the supply, usage and wastage on a micro level. To deal with this, some students from the Department of Electrical Engineering are working on a project, named Lora Technology. Under this, sensors will be installed in all tanks, which will record the desired data. It uses a technology similar to 3G service with no need of a separate internet connection, needing only a small amount of power. This can directly transmit the recordings to the concerned people (maintenance councils, hostel affairs, etc) who can see the trends and findings through a smartphone app. This is proposed to be tested in hostels 15 and 16 very shortly, as confirmed by the GSHA.

It has also been proposed to replace the current valves in tanks, that have only binary functions (on/off positions), with valves that also incorporate different levels of flow of water for better regulation. Also in case of overflows, students are suggested to contact the Quick Response Team, as this issue also comes under their jurisdiction.

Keeping in mind the limited water supply, the Colour Run has not been organised this year. It is not hard to contemplate the crises that may manifest after Holi, if water is used recklessly. However, the administration thinks it would be wrong to completely ban the use of water for playing Holi, and thus, the HA team has come up with certain restrictions on the water usage during the festival. However, specifics pertaining to the limitations aren’t clear. There will be surprise checks from the institute authorities to make sure that water is not wasted. Any violations found will be dealt with seriousness, penalising both the defaulters and the respective hostel councils.

From the students’ side, it should be a responsibility to practice judicious use of water, avoiding activities requiring huge amounts of water, such as filling up mini pools for fun, throwing buckets of water from floors of hostels like H15/16 and H12/13/14. Also, given the fact that the supply is halted during 2-6 PM, unrestricted use of water may cause a lot of problem for bathing, washing etc.

While Holi is only a day in this period of extended water scarcity in Maharashtra, the student community will find themselves in better stead if we are careful about water use and prevent wastage. We should be thankful that despite chronic water scarcity in the state, we have been provided with a relatively continuous supply. At the same time, the water infrastructure of the institute needs to be carefully examined and upgraded, keeping in mind the specific demands of an expanding campus population, the intra-campus variations of geography and the erraticity of supply from the BMC. Both students and administration need to better manage their water requirements at a personal and institutional level respectively. One without the other would be futile.

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