World Water Day 2023: Nuapada switched to surface from ground sources to solve its problems of quality and quantity

After the launch of Jal Jeevan Mission in 2019, the district witnessed a drastic change in the sector of rural water supply. River water was tapped for drinking under the mission

Nuapada, odisha : Eastern Ghats

This was first published in Big change is possible: Best practices in water supply and sanitation in India 

Increased concentration of natural fluoride in groundwater has resulted from over-extraction of groundwater in western Odisha. Nuapada district in western Odisha is similarly affected.

Over the last decade, groundwater plunged by 0.59 m from 6.27 metres below ground level (mbgl) to 6.86 mbgl. According to the latest Central Groundwater Board report, in 2013 the occurrence of fluoride in groundwater was as high as 4.95 milligrams per litre. This is almost four times higher than the permissible limit of fluoride in drinking water as prescribed by the World Health Organization.

Improvement of the quality and quantity of groundwater is unlikely in the district as it is located on hard massive rock, making natural recharge of groundwater almost impossible.

Availability of clean and safe water was a big challenge in the villages in Nuapada district. In the absence of alternative sources of drinking water, villagers were forced to drink groundwater, which led to serious health threats like fluorosis and kidney failure.

Villagers spent almost 50-60 per cent of their earnings in health-related issues. According to the analysis of the District Water Testing Laboratory, Nuapada, over-extraction of groundwater would make the fluoride concentration high enough to put this district under high alert.

Not only was the quality of drinking water raising concern, the available borewells were also drying up. Digging to deeper levels of groundwater was not solving the crisis of safe drinking water. High fluoride contamination persisted even in deeper levels of the aquifer.

In Nuapada district, groundwater in 99 out of 670 villages is severely affected by fluoride. Answering a question raised in the Lok Sabha in January 2019, the minister of state for the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation said that 895 habitations were suffering from fluoride problems.

Around 1,707 tube wells in the district were reported to be affected by fluoride contamination, which would lead to serious health problems in the villages. Communities, especially the womenfolk, walked for 4–6 km daily in search of safe and clean water.

Women could not send their children to school on time, as they would be standing in queues near hand pumps or standposts for water. There were some old government schemes such as the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, launched in 2008, but they were not functional due to lack of interest of the concerned departments.

Though the government of Odisha tried to implement temporary solutions, including installation of de-fluoridation plants in 526 hand pumps and tube wells and allocating funds for installation of community water treatment plants, there was a major shift in the source of drinking water only in 2017.

With the National Water Quality Sub-Mission (NWQSM) fund, a permanent solution was proposed and the source of drinking water moved from groundwater to surface water.

(left) Intake well in Lower Indira Dam in Komna block in Nuapada district   (right)  A 10.25 MLD water-treatment plant in Komna block in Nuapada district (Photos: Pradeep Kumar Mishra, CSE)

The change

After the launch of Jal Jeevan Mission in 2019, the district witnessed a drastic change in the sector of rural water supply. River water was tapped for drinking under the mission.

In Nuapada district, two major schemes have been implemented under the mission. The Lower Indira dam and Jonk river dam have become potential sources of drinking water for the village.

Reservoirs near the dams store water. The intake wells collect water from the reservoirs and transport it to water treatment plants. Water is purified to drinking standard here and transferred to overhead tanks in different villages.

The villages supply water to the households through well-laid pipelines. For example, in Komna block of Nuapada district, a 4 million litre per day (MLD) intake well withdraws water from a reservoir near the Jonk dam. The intake well transports water to the 10.25 MLD water treatment plant.

The plant treats water for biological, physical and chemical impurities and provides clean water with all parameters within the permissible limit to the rural households through the overhead tanks constructed at villages.

Another water intake well has been constructed near the reservoir of Lower Indira Dam, where the water is conveyed to another 10.25 MLD water treatment plant. After the entire purification processes, clean and safe water is provided to rural households.

After interventions under Jal Jeevan Mission in Nuapada, people have seen substantial changes in their lives and health. They no longer go to faraway sources of water.

Instead, they get potable water at their doorstep through functional taps. There has been a fall in kidney failure cases by 30 per cent, and no new cases have been found in the last one year.

Operation and maintenance

The rural water supply department of the state under the Jal Jeevan Mission in Nuapada district in coordination with the contractor of the project will look after the operation and maintenance of water supply systems in the district till 2025. The contract was given in 2020 to a multinational, Larsen and Toubro.

Village Water and Sanitation Committees (VWSCs) have been formed in all the villages of the district. They are at the nurturing stage. A series of capacity-building programmes are being conducted so that the handover of the operation and maintenance of the water supply projects can be given to the committees.

VWSCs in close coordination with the gram panchayat will monitor the supply system and take necessary steps for any requirement of repair or maintenance.

To ensure clean drinking water, field testing kits have been provided to villages, where trained women representatives of the VWSCs will test the water for potability and report to district water-testing laboratories. Water from the treatment plant is tested every day and the reports are sent to the rural water supply department.

Mining-affected tribal areas plan for clean water and grey-water management

According to local communities, iron levels in groundwater in the mining distict of Keonjhar district in north Odisha were up to five times the permissible limit in drinking water prescribed by the World Health Organization.

In 2019, Keonjhar, like Nuapada, shifted its drinking water source from groundwater to surface water. Water from adjacent rivers is pumped to water treatment plants. For example, water from the Baitarni river is pumped to a 13.74 million litre per day water-treatment plant in the Jhumpura block, which caters to 115 mining-affected areas.

Around 117,475 people are catered to through this water treatment plant. The plant, however, has a design capacity to cater to a population of 198,184, expected to be reached by 2050. The supplied water is made free from bacteriological, physical and chemical impurities and supplied to the village-level distribution unit, where a 50-kilolitre ground-level reservoir stands at an elevation higher than that of the village. The water, supplied to household taps through gravity flow, maintains a discharge of 55–70 litre per day. The Key Resource Centre for Jal Jeevan Mission, Bhubaneswar-based non-profit Gram Vikas, generated awareness in communities about water conservation and grey-water treatment through kitchen gardens. Grey water from bathrooms and kitchens, which previously accumulated in the lower reaches of villages, are now treated at the household level through kitchen gardens.

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