Water is a big reason to worry

Posted on September 22, 2011 by

United Nations stated that “water is a social and cultural good, not merely an economic commodity”. Chemically water is a compound of oxygen and hydrogen with chemical formula H2O and highly distinctive physical and chemical properties. Of all the water available on Earth, 97 % of water is saline and is in oceans, 3% of water is freshwater available in rivers, streams and glaciers. There is enough freshwater available on the planet for current population of the world but it is distributed unevenly and that is the reason behind water stress and water scarcity in some regions of the world.

The reality of looming water shortage got attention of political leaders across the world. A number of companies, investors and other stakeholders now care about the business risks from water scarcity.

Water intensive industries like power, paper and pulp, manufacturing, beverage and construction need to take steps to protect their business interests from water scarcity. Some of them are also beginning to develop an understanding of the geographic distribution of water scarcity risks. Measuring organization’s water footprint (direct and indirect water uses in their value chain) may provide data on historical, current and predictive water demand and consumption of their operations.

In understanding risks associated with water we must explore why the interest in water, what comprises water scarcity and why water management is required.

Why the interest in water?  

Indian economy has been growing steadily, slower than only China among large countries. Sectors like steel and energy will need to keep pace in order to fulfill the demands of infrastructure and manufacturing.  Annual per capita consumption of energy in India is less than 1/20th as compared to US but is fast growing, putting demand on the present installed power generation capacity. As per the ministry of power, thermal power plants which are the most water-intensive industrial units, constitute around 65% of the installed power capacity in India. India will also add more power generation capacity in the coming years. Significant portion of this new added capacity will include coal. As per the study conducted by CSE[1], figure 1 shows the estimate on total water consumption in India by different industries. Thermal power plants are the thirstiest industry among all the sectors followed by engineering, pulp and paper, textiles, steel, sugar and fertilizers.

What comprises water scarcity?

Figure 1

The word water scarcity describes the gap between demand for water and its availability. Water scarcity can be determined by both the availability of water and its consumption patterns. As per a study by National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, an annual water availability of less than 1700 m3 per-capita makes region “water stressed”. Annual water availability of less than 1000 m3 per capita per year makes region “water scarce. In India per capita surface water availability has dropped from 2309 m3 in the year1991 to 1902 m3 in 2001. These numbers are further projected to reduce to 1401 m3 and 1191 m3 by the years 2025 and 2050 respectively.

Economic Water Scarcity: Lack of investment in water along with lack of human capacity to fulfill the demand for water is characterized as economic water scarcity. As per the ‘The Project Water[2]’ a non-profit organization working on access to clean water and proper sanitation, “Economic water scarcity exists when a population does not have the necessary monetary means to utilize an adequate source of water. Economic water scarcity is about an unequal distribution of resources for many reasons, including political and ethnic conflict”.  Sub-Saharan Africa and some part of South America is an example economic water scarcity.

Physical Water Scarcity: Physical scarcity occurs when there is not enough water to meet all demands, including environmental flows or when the demand overtake the ability of lands to provide the necessary  water.

As per the UN estimate, water scarcity already affects every continent. Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation[3]. Figure 2 shows water stress, water scarce and vulnerable regions across the world.   

Figure 2

Why is water management required?

Water is a part of everything humans make and do. Water use can be categorized into two main parts i.e. Consumptive and Non-consumptive. Consumptive uses include water used for drinking, irrigation or in evaporative coolers/cooling towers, chemicals, etc. Non-consumptive uses include bathing, hydropower generation, recreation i.e. the same water can be used again and again; the quality however lowers with use. In additions it is classified into drinking, agricultural, municipal and industrial category.

Domestic and industrial water requirements of India are satisfied through rivers, reservoirs and   groundwater from both shallow and deep aquifers, all of which are charged from the monsoon rains.    India receives most of its water from south-west monsoon which is the most important feature controlling the Indian climate. 75% of the annual rainfall is received during a short span of four months between June to September. The rainfall distribution over the country shows large variations in the amounts of rainfall received by different locations e.g. the average annual rainfall is less than 13 cm over the western Rajasthan, while at some part of Meghalaya it has as much as 1141 cm. As per the Indian Metrological Department, India’s annual rainfall is around 1182.8 mm. Out of that, the mean rainfall of south-west monsoon between June-September is around 877.2 mm and contributes 74.2% of annual rainfall.

These parameters contribute to temporal and geographical variations in the water availability across the country. This variability affects industries as per their location and also according to time of the year. 

Water scarcity prone sectors 

1.     Power 

As per the WRI report on ‘Financial Risks from Water Constraints on Power Generation in Asia[4]’,   the connection of water to power sector development is not well understood by investors, governments, and companies in India. . Growing energy demand is leading to establishment of newer power plants, adding to the water requirement from limited reserves further.. Thermal and Hydro based power plants require steady supply of water for cooling and generation to maintain loads and avoid disruptions.

As mentioned earlier, the availability of freshwater is rapidly declining in many parts of the world including India due to demographic pressures and climate change (Please refer Figure 2).  Establishment of newer power plants along with existing power plants will add more pressure on water resources in the already water stress and water scarce regions.  The share of thermal and hydro power generation in India’s total electricity generation is around 65% and 21% respectively (Data on 2011, Ministry of Power). Thermal and hydro power based systems are the indispensible sources of power in India which cannot run without the water.

Facts about Indian power plants and water

Figure 3 shows the location of power plants in the different part of the country with its region-specific water availability. WRI research stated that around 20% of the power plants are located in water scarce regions, around 55% of power plants are located in water stress region and remaining 25% are located at water available regions in India.

Figure 3

2.       Agriculture

India spreads across 32 crore hectares supporting a population of more than 120 crores. India’s population density is 382 inhab/km² and population dependent on agriculture, directly and indirectly is more than 60 crores. India’s growing population will demand more area to be brought under cultivation. This is bound to have cascading effect on water demand. Currently, around 6,22,86,000 hectares (36% of total cultivated area) is irrigated.  High Yield Varieties (HYVs) that create opportunities for multi-cropping, require irrigation to perform well. HYVs are essential for India’s food security.

Facts about Indian Agriculture and water

India’s population grew from 35.75 Million[5] in 1950 to 1.21 billion (2011 Census) today representing a full 17% of the earth’s population. India’s irrigated area has around doubled and water withdrawals tripled between this period. India’s population is expected to reach around 1.57 billion by 2050 which will require additional drawl pressure on the fresh water resources for the irrigation purpose to produce more food grains and other allied agricultural produce.

3.       Infrastructure and Manufacturing   

As per the UN statistics[6], of the total global water consumption 70% of water is consumed for irrigation, 22% used for industries and only 8% of water is consumed for domestic use. However, some studies indicate that the water consumption by industries will surpass Agriculture and Domestic water consumption in near future. Industrial water use already accounts for as much as around 60% of the total fresh water consumption in some developed countries which is almost twice the amount used in agriculture. Most of the infrastructure and manufacturing industries use water in multiple ways such as construction, cleaning, heating and cooling and for generating steam. Besides this these industries create more pressure on water resources through the negative environmental impacts by discharging wastewater into the freshwater sources.

Facts about Indian Industries and water

As per the CSE report[7], In 2000, India’s annual fresh water withdrawals were about 500 billion cubic meter and the Indian industry consumed about 10 billion cubic meter of water as process water and 30 billion cubic meter as cooling water.  Water consumption in Indian industry accounted for about 8% of the total fresh water use in the country. Recent assessments indicate that the water requirement for industrial use will rise to 120 billion cubic meters by 2025 (A.K.Vidyarthi, CPCB[8]).

How businesses can address water scarcity?

It is now fundamental need for the businesses to managing water strategically. The risks posed by growing strain on water resources driven by the growing population and industrial activities need to be actively managed.

There is a strong requirement to develop long-term, sustainable approaches that can provide organization the water they need, but also in a way which meets the wide range of stakeholder expectations.

Some of the approaches that need implementation are;

  1. Minimizing water consumption at facilities and maximize reuse: Industries need to invest in new technologies and processes that reduce water use and wastewater discharges.
  2. Control and store irregular water flows by creating reservoirs and storing water to regulate seasonal flows, limit floods and overcome dry spells.
  3. Prioritize the investments based on regional water scarcity and channelize it towards the technological solution to overcome water scarcity issue.
  4. Meet local/global standard for wastewater discharge.
  5. Ensuring a stable water supply for the manufacturing facilities with incorporating local stakeholders i.e. while working with local communities to minimize the impact
  6. Target greater water efficiency and report on its progress – Industrial water productivity (ratio of value of water withdrawn to value of industrial output using the water) is a general indicator of performance in water use.

Water footprint is a useful tool to measure the amount of water organization use and exact water consumed for an entire lifecycle of the product they made.


Contact us for more details;

Agneya Carbon Ventures Pvt Ltd

Agneya can assess and provide increasingly customised data to companies to help them understand their water consumption by using a highly sophisticated tool of Water footprint assessment and Water audit.

For assistance on Water footprint or for any other information, we can be reached at:

Indrajeet – +91 9028788430

Shailesh – +91 9890887670

Posted in: Water