the ongoing water crisis in Gujarat shows no sign of abating. The situation has been made worse in areas where there is a high degree of water salinity. Moreover, the euphoria over the Supreme Court's go-ahead for the Sardar Sarovar Project may turn out to be short lived, feel experts. "Narmada water is not going to reach far flung areas of Saurashtra and North Gujarat for another two years," says S V Ahuja, chief engineer of Ahmedabad's department of water supply. "Therefore, it is necessary to harness all other possible methods of making water available to the most badly affected places."The Gujarat government feels that desalination plants may be the best possible solution to overcome the water crisis".
The plants, based on the electrodialysis reversal process, will start operating in the 550 villages of Patan, Banaskantha and Kutch, the three worst affected districts of the state. The plants are expected to reduce salinity up to 750 total dissolved solids (tds), claims the state's water supply department. "Each plant will have the capacity to desalinate 10,000-60,000 litres of water daily," says Ahuja. He claims that this method, though requiring a high degree of maintenance, will prove to be cheaper than the process of making water available through the Narmada canals.
But, the viability of these plants is in doubt. Between 1985-1988, when there was a severe drought, nearly 50 desalination units were set up in Saurashtra. However, due to poor maintenance, most of them were closed down. P P Patel, head of geology department of M S University, Vadodara, feels that setting up big desalination plants will not solve the problem. "Maintaining and forming small ponds and waterbodies should be encouraged so that the groundwater level is enhanced," he said.