Charleston Waterkeeper is pleased to present this guest blog post by Dr. Vijay Vulava of the College of Charleston. Dr. Vulava is a professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences and Director of the Hydrochemistry Research Laboratory. He also serves on Charleston Waterkeeper’s Board of Directors where provides scientific expertise and insight for our programatic activity. In this post Dr. Vulava recounts his recent visit to New Delhi, India with students from his study abroad course: Water Resources and Pollution in the Developing World.
The College of Charleston maintains a close relationship with Charleston Waterkeeper, especially in their efforts to monitor water quality along Charleston’s many tidal creeks and rivers to ensure that the water is safe for all users. Several students from the College volunteer their time to help Charleston Waterkeeper, while others work with them on research projects. Recently a group of students and faculty members, including myself and Dr. Timothy Callahan of the Geology department, visited India for a biennial study abroad course to study water resources and pollution along the much revered Ganges River. With Charleston Waterkeeper’s help, we had the opportunity to meet with the Mid Upper Yamuna Waterkeeper, Ms. Minakshi Arora, and her husband Kesar, the Lower Yamuna Waterkeeper, in New Delhi this past June.
The Yamuna Waterkeepers are working very hard to help clean up, what is possibly, the most polluted river in India. The Yamuna River is a major tributary of the Ganges River, and like Ganges River, has headwaters in the glaciers of the Himalayas. However, as the river passes through pristine headwaters into the plains of northern India, the river water is heavily used for potable water, farming, industries, waste disposal, and energy production by a very densely populated region of India. Point- and non-point source pollution discharged into the river makes it highly polluted, while the inept and corrupt local, state, and federal governments make cursory effort to clean up the river. Incidentally, this river is also a major drinking water source for India’s capital, New Delhi, but downstream of the capital, the river is no more than a wastewater canal.
During our visit to New Delhi, Ms. Arora and Kesar (they are the entire Yamuna Waterkeeper) graciously visited with us on a very short notice and took time to talk about their advocacy and ground-level efforts to help clean up rivers in the Yamuna basin using traditional and conventional methods. They work on a shoestring budget (charitable donations are their main source of funding) and partner with local universities and other nonprofits. Ms. Arora answered a lot of our questions and also led a field trip to the banks of Yamuna near ITO barrage, which is a major drinking water intake for New Delhi. However, the water here is already polluted and stench from the river was quite strong – one can only imagine how hard Delhi’s water treatment plant has to work to make this water potable. Downstream of the city the river receives all the treated (and untreated) wastewater that is discharged by the city’s wastewater treatment plants. This river continues south along Agra and majestically flows in the background of the famous Taj Mahal. Along the way the river continues to be abused and more waste from industries as well as numerous farms and towns is dumped indiscriminately – the river is no more than a vast sewer behind Taj Mahal during most of the year, until the monsoon rains revive the river at the end of summer.
Overall, it was a very interesting visit and meeting with the Yamuna Waterkeepers. The College’s students learned about the role that nonprofits, such as Yamuna Waterkeeper, play in raising awareness among the common populace about water pollution and its link to societal wellbeing. They not only learned a wide range of scientific issues regarding water use in India, but also the role that the government and the Indian culture plays on how water is used in this part of the world. It was an eye-opening experience for us all.