Water

Water wastage by coal power plants: India needs regulatory oversight, protocol for water audits

Needs uniform format for reporting water consumption data and a protocol for its monitoring and verification through mandatory third-party water audits

 
By Sugandha Arora Sardana
Published: Thursday 22 July 2021
Regulatory oversight and protocol for water audits needed to fix water wastage by coal power plants. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

India’s coal-fired power plants have rampantly flouted 2015 water consumption regulations: Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment flagged the non-compliance of the Union environment ministry norms in a recent report.

The study surveyed over 154 gigawatt coal power capacity and found that about half of freshwater-based power plants did not comply with 2015 water consumption standards. Most of these plants belonged to state-owned companies, with the highest number being concentrated in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The CSE report flagged how the self-reported data on water consumption by these plants was often inaccurate; the issue of water usage and need for conservation is neglected by regulatory authorities. This is when water availability is crucial for this sector’s economic survival.

CSE found several loopholes in the self-reported data and formats being followed across states to report specific water consumption in environment statements. It was observed that many plants continued to underreport — or report their specific water consumption incorrectly — to authorities in the environment statements.

No uniform format was followed by power plants across states (or within a state) for submitting water consumption data, especially in environment statements. Apart from reporting issues, there was an absence of third-party monitoring and verification of data through water audits. This births the possibility of data manipulation, data misinterpretation under-reporting.

Plants may continue to underreport and operate with specific water consumption higher than the specified limit, which leads to excessive water wastage. This has been happening at a time when several parts of the country are reeling under acute water shortage, which can be attributed to increasing industrial water requirements.

According to CSE’s recent estimates, 48 per cent of our existing coal power fleet is already located in water-scarce districts. Many have been facing shutdown during water crisis situation in their area.

A robust regulatory and monitoring protocol is needed to expedite compliance and reduce water footprint of the sector.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and State Pollution Control Boards should ensure that a uniform format is followed by all plants across states for reporting specific water consumption and other water-related data, which can give complete information on compliance of the plant on its specific water consumption, water consumption break-up and zero discharge.

In the absence of third-party monitoring, excessive water wastage by non-complying plants may not be even accounted for at times. It is important, therefore, that self-reported values are cross-verified by independent agencies either through full-fledged conduction of water audits and water balance studies, or through monitoring and verification audits, to assess the actual water consumption.

In this regard, the environment ministry should make it mandatory for power plants to conduct annual water audits to ensure that self-
reported data is accurate. Additionally, water audit studies can identify scope of water conservation, recycling and reuse within a plant to achieve compliance. Annual water audit reports must be submitted to regulatory bodies alongwith environment statements.

Periodic calibration of raw water meter and submission of calibration report to regulatory agency must also be ensured. This is important so that water consumption values are recorded correctly as faulty meters often lead to under-reporting of water consumption.

To expedite compliance, the Union environment ministry and CPCB must review implementation of water consumption norms and issue clear deadlines to non-complying plants and ensure zero discharge implementation. Though power plants submit  on a quarterly basis their specific water consumption data to pollution control boards, the task of monitoring should not be only to the paper work and clear deadlines must be provided to achieve compliance.

The implementation of norms must be prioritised in power plants located in water-scarce regions of India to reduce the dependence on the already stressed water resources. As identified by CSE, few such regions include Nagpur and Chandrapur in Maharashtra, Raichur in Karnataka, Korba and Raigarh in Chhattisgarh, Barmer and Baran in Rajasthan, Khammam and Kothagudem in Telangana, Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu, and Birbhum and Wesi Medinipur in West Bengal.

The ministry must also prioritise decommissioning of old and inefficient freshwater-based power plants once through cooling plants.

There is need to evolve systems of effective deterrence and mechanism with firm action plans to ensure compliance of water standards. A robust and effective policy is needed to encourage the use of treated municipal sewage to reduce freshwater consumption in power plants.

The sector has a massive water footprint and all efforts must be made to mitigate this impact. The deadline to meet the water norms was December 2017, and has long passed. Post the 2017 deadline breach, no further deadlines were given to plants to meet specific water consumption standards.

The issue of compliance and implementation of water norms has been completely overlooked.

It is clear that water availability will be a determinant of our future. It is for this reason this sector must improve its performance.

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