October 27, 2019
Water looks like slush, say Mettupalayam residents; fit to drink if boiled and filtered, says official; amidst all this, a model water strategist shares his views. Will desilting the Pilloor dam help alleviate the water crisis? Editor Vidyashree Dharmaraj writes.
If you are in Mettupalayam in Coimbatore District with a parched throat, then you will have to do with just muddy water to drink.
The reason is: the Pilloor dam over the Bhavani river has not be desilted ever since it was constructed in 1967.
However, the muddy water is all what the residents of Mettupalyam have to drink, and during rains the water is not potable at all, they say.
“The very sight of the water causes revulsion,” says M Suresh, a resident.
“How can one drink this water if it looks like this in the first place? If you leave the water for some time, the mud settles down and sometimes it’s so thick that it looks like slush,” he said, lamenting that the children are falling sick because of consuming this water.
The Municipal Commissioner of Mettupalayam M Gandhiraj, however, explained that it is impossible to desilt Pilloor dam because of the expanse and it would require huge expenditure. “The water needs to be drained out completely before anything can be done. Also 50 MW of electricity is being generated out of the dam. It may not be possible to suspend everything and drain the water out to desilt the dam. It is a mammoth task and the Public Works Department is responsible for it.”
His advice: People can let the drinking water supplied to rest for a day before they drink it.
A resident, M Jaikumar, said that the muddy water supplied is not specific to rainy days.
“We have been getting this kind of water for the last four to five months. This water is also supplied to Tiruppur, Coimbatore and Thondamuthur. It is causing several health problems, and the solution they give is to merely boil the water and drink it, but we are disgusted. We are not able to drink this water. The methods of storing and filtering the water are not proper and they are not treated adequately with chlorine, thereby not disinfected properly.”
This problem has forced most residents to buy mineral water for which they have to spend Rs. 40 a can, and that it lasts for a few days only.
He said in Karnataka 20 litres mineral water was sold for Rs. 2 through water kiosks. It was part of the Water Health Centres set up in several places in Bengaluru. A similar initiative that was rolled out in of the wards in Mettupalayam saw 1 litre of water being sold for Rs. 1, but that also fizzled out, he said.
“That should recommence so that we can consume clean water,” he said.
The Medical Officer of the Mettupalayam government Hospital, Dr Saeralaathan, however denied that the muddy water could pose any health risk.
It is important to boil the water properly and then filter it once before it is consumed, he said, insisting that if the water is boiled and filtered then it becomes fit for drinking, and there are no issues with consuming this water.
While the people of Mettupalayam have been battling for clean water, the former Panchayat President of Odanthurai Panchayat, R Shanmugam, is going places showcasing his model water purification strategy.
A recipient of several awards, he was one among the two panchayat presidents picked from the country to be awarded at a national conference in Delhi for providing clean water.
“Even today the same muddy water that is supplied to the Panchayat is purified, filtered and cleaned before it enters the residents of the 12 hamlets where about 11,000 people live,” he said.
The water supplied to Mettupalayam residents sourced from the Bhavani river is red or brown in colour whenever it rains but otherwise the water is clear, according to Shanmugam.
The water purification process undertaken by Odanthurai Panchayat started in 1999 with 10 per cent public participation. This was the first time such a scheme was started in India. In this filtering process, sand filter, ceramic filter is used to ensure that the water is bacteria free. This technology does not use chemicals. The infection unit uses a silver ionisation system which is fitted to the filter that purifies the water. This is the process that has been followed for two decades and water is supplied every alternate day.
Shanmugam said that no one could replicate the system, not because it is not possible but because there is no inclination or interest. In a matter of 11 months a pipeline of 13 km was laid, water purifier, booster station and overhead tank were installed to operate the entire system, he said.
Anyone close to the river bank can follow this process but in most cases the interest is only in making money by wrong means.