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Paper

Promoting Wastewater Treatment in India

Critical Questions of Economic Viability

Nitin Bassi, Saurabh Kumar, M. Dinesh Kumar, Sofie Van Ermen and Paul Campling
July 2022 | Food, Land and Water

Suggested Citation: Bassi, Nitin, Saurabh Kumar, M. Dinesh Kumar, Sofie Van Ermen, and Paul Campling. 2022. Promoting Wastewater Treatment in India: Critical Questions of Economic Viability. Water and Environment Journal. https://doi.org/10.1111/wej.12810

Overview

This research study highlights the importance of undertaking an economic viability assessment along with a cost-effectiveness analysis in order to determine the sustainability of the wastewater treatment schemes (WTS). The analysis shows that the direct benefits from treated wastewater are unlikely to be high in most situations in India due to the lack of demand for it. For the investments in WTS to be sustainable, the study suggests considering and quantifying the indirect benefits of treated wastewater reuse, which include public health benefits due to the protection of drinking water sources, environmental benefits due to maintenance of aquatic life, and improvement of soil health.

Key Highlights

  • As of 2020, India had 1469 sewage treatment plants (STPs). The most commonly used electro-mechanical (EM) technologies in STPs are sequencing batch reactors (SBR) (30 per cent STPs), activated sludge process (ASP) (20 per cent STPs), moving bed biofilm reactor (MBBR) (12 per cent STPs), and Up-flow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) (5 per cent STPs). The most common nature-based technologies include waste stabilisation pond (WSP) (4 per cent STPS).
  • As per the life cycle cost analysis (LCCA), the annualised cost of wastewater treatment for the STPs based on EM technologies is highest for the MBR (INR 6.23 per cubic metre (cu m)) and lowest for MBBR (INR 2.28 per cu m).
  • In terms of daily energy requirement, STPs based on MBR have the highest (302.5 kWh/million litres/day) and the ones based on UASB the lowest (125.7 kWh/million litres/day).
  • Nature-based technologies have a low unit cost of wastewater treatment and minimal energy needs, but land requirements are large in comparison to the EM technologies. For WSP, the wastewater treatment cost is INR 0.20 per cu m and the land requirement is about 11 times that required by SBR.
  • Economic viability and environmental acceptance of WTS can be improved if the treated water is reused. Considering the reuse potential, four different situations including the types of economic benefits (direct and indirect) that can be derived are identified.
  • Indirect benefits are likely to be more in regions that experience physical scarcity of water and environmental water stress or regions with low ecosystem carrying capacity.

Key Recommendations

  • Promote WTS in situations where the reuse of treated wastewater can provide many direct benefits and indirect benefits related to public health and ecosystem improvement.
  • Focus on a region's water needs and the conveyance infrastructure while taking decisions concerning investment in WTS and selection of technology. This is important to maximise the economic benefits from the reuse of treated wastewater.
Promote wastewater treatment schemes in situations where reuse of treated wastewater can provide many direct benefits and indirect benefits related to public health and ecosystem improvement.

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