Mr. Patel Goes Back to India
By Executive Director of Operations/GWRS Mehul Patel
I was recently invited by the U.S. Department of State to participate in a “Water Matters” collaborative project of the U.S. Consulate General of Chennai; Care Earth Trust; Smithsonian Institute, U.S.; and the Science Gallery, Bengalaru. It was a speaker engagement series in the Indian cities of Chennai and Bengalaru from Oct. 14 to 18 and I was joined by Sudhir Murthy, CEO, NEWhub, an expert in wastewater treatment and technology innovation.
The purpose of the trip was to help educate, advocate and support south India in addressing water challenges. OCWD’s groundwater management and history of water reuse were seen as ideal models for addressing south Indian water scarcity issues.
Our visit was hoped to be a starting point towards a dialogue to help advance India towards a sustainable water supply through wastewater reuse. I emphasized the importance of public perception and overcoming the “yuck” factor. I shared that public outreach to build public trust and disseminate scientific information about the safety of water reuse is essential and a number one priority, even before treatment facilities are built.
It was an amazing trip from a couple of different standpoints. This mission fulfilled OCWD’s obligation and commitment to advance potable reuse and it uniquely allowed me to utilize a life’s work in the water and water reuse industries to give back to the country of my heritage.
My older sister and I are first generation Americans. My family, who all live in the U.S. now, comes from the northwest region of India in Gujarat. The two cities I visited, Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu located along the coast of the Indian Ocean, and Bengalaru, located in the state of Karnataka and known as the Silicon Valley of India, were places I had never been; but the sites of traffic and rickshaws, the smell of tea, naan bread and stews found on every street corner reminded me of my mother’s cooking and of my only trip to India
when I was 8 years old.
Chennai and Bengalaru have similar issues as we have in Orange County. They have challenges with water scarcity, groundwater overdraft, seawater intrusion, but also have their environmental pollution issues due to a lack of infrastructure to keep wastewater from contaminating rivers and eventually the groundwater basin.
Their most pressing issues are an inconsistent water supply and the quality of their water. The Tamil Nadu government has a goal to have running tap water in every home and small village within 10 years. I see this as a worthy but ambitious goal, as there are impediments due to the lack of infrastructure and the amount of money needed to complete it.
But there is hope. The Tamil Nadu region is home to large scale auto manufacturing and the government is already using limited water reuse to provide them with quality water. The fact that I and my colleague were chosen to visit and provide groundwater and water reuse information is another step in the right direction. It was the goal of the trip to advocate for use of advanced wastewater treatment and reuse to be used more extensively to solve a lot of the current issues, especially environmental pollution and cleanup issues. But there are no illusions that one visit will solve all of these issues. It takes time. It took OCWD a decade to plan and design the Groundwater Replenishment System and several years of conceptual planning. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes money, time and expertise.
It’s an honor that the District is thought of so highly by both the U.S. Department of State and the government of India as to be chosen to participate and share our expertise in groundwater management and water reuse to help south India with water scarcity issues. I was happy to be a part of the conversation and I look forward to continuing that discussion.