Introduce Crisis Pricing for Water

Bangalore appears to be heading an unprecedented water crisis with plummeting water levels in the KRS reservoir and weak river flows in the Hemavathi. Afshan Yasmeen from The Hindu tells us that the city may have only 20 days of water left, unless the rains relieve us:

Predicting that the city will plunge into unprecedented water crisis if it doesn’t rain in the next few days, the official said at least 2.6 tmcft water is needed to cope till the monsoon arrives. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has also been briefed, the official said.

“If more water from the Hemavathi is not released, we may have to draw water from the dead storage. This requires preparation and precautions as it will be the first time that the dead storage will be touched,” the official said.

Pointing out that Bangalore needs 1,250 mld, he appealed to people to use water judiciously. “We also want people to come up with suggestions on how to manage the situation,” he added. The Hindu, May 16, 2013
[Emphasis added]

With all of Bangalore’s water woes, it must be mentioned that the city has a better history of water management than most other places in India. Managing water is not just about ensuring supply, but also includes the management of demand – of ensuring that people do not waste precious, scarce resources. For one, Bangalore remains one of very few cities in the country which has metered the water connections of most of its residents, ensuring that there is volumetric pricing for water – where people only pay as per the amount of water they use.

Unfortunately, this is far from sufficient. Though water has been priced, it isn’t sufficient to recover even the operational costs of supplying water – let alone manage demand effectively. Though the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has a slab-wise increasing tariff, even the most profligate of consumers pay only Rs. 36 per 1000 litres of water. In comparison, the BWSSB ends up spending about Rs. 48* for the same amount – essentially giving a subsidy of at least 12 rupees per kilo-litre to the richest of Bangaloreans.

Pricing water is always a contentious issue, with politicians and officials wary about increasing tariffs for fear of a popular backlash. However, Bangalore is facing a severe crisis here and every drop of water saved counts. If the state has to draw water from the dead storage at KRS, the costs will be tremendously higher. It is only fair that the users of this water bear their fair share of the costs, instead of off-loading them onto the taxpayer.

It is imperative that the government introduces crisis pricing of water and hike up the rates to ensure its judicious use. Every unit of water from BWSSB that gets wasted is another unit of water that needs to be bought from water tankers – at five to ten times the price. By increasing the municipal tariffs and preventing people from using water for frivolous things like daily car washing, the state can actually up reducing the total cost people spend on domestic water in Bangalore.

We pay more for fruits and vegetables when they are not in season, and we pay even more for them when they are in very short supply. Already there is increasing consensus for introducing electricity prices that are time-dependent: where consumption during peak load hours is more expensive than the rest. Why shouldn’t we pay more for water in the summer, and even more when the city is facing an unprecedented crisis? It is time to let the residents of the city pitch in during a time of trouble.

*The approximate costs for the operational cost of supplying water, after leakage and distribution losses. This does not include all the expenses on building the supply infrastructure, nor does it factor in the externality of pollution and loss to the ecology of the river basin that the supply of water causes.

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6 Responses to Introduce Crisis Pricing for Water

  1. Pagan May 16, 2013 at 11:13 AM #

    I agree with your opinion about the need for crisis pricing. However I believe this is only a part of the bigger solution. This does not address the supply part of the problem. I think the biggest mistake Bangalore did was not preserving its lakes. It is just criminal to let your precious God given water bodies be taken over by real estate mafia. Bangalore once had hundreds of lakes. Prominent lakes Bangalore lost –

    1. Sampangi lake
    2. Kempambudhi lake.
    3. Uttarahalli lake (50% encroached)
    4. Gubblala lake (50% encroached)
    5. Sarakki lake
    6. Dharmambudhi lake
    7. Kadrenahalli lake
    8. Parangipalya lake (where now HSR layout stands)

    Old report –

    In the 1960s, there were 280 tanks by 1993, less than 80 remained. Now there are only 67 but most are dead. According to IWP, various factors have led to this: several of these lakes have been officially developed by the government into layouts and several have been encroached by slums and private parties.

    Points to ponder:

    1. How many of those lost lakes can be reclaimed even if it means clearing out whole of residential areas? Difficult but then Bangalore’s survival is at stake.
    2. Create huge artificial lakes around Bangalore.
    3. Can Arkavathy river be rejuvenated?
    4. River linking?

  2. harkol May 17, 2013 at 11:23 AM #

    Once we realize urban water is a expensive resource, we can move on to price it appropriately.

    If water costs are brought up, then we can source water from greater distances.

    Within the next decade it is likely that de-salination of water may become reasonably affordable (with increased cost of water). And pumping it from 300-400km isn’t something that needs to be dismissed.

    But, we need forward looking strategy and policy.

    Solar Power may become much cheaper than coal/natural gas power by 2025. That’ll make pumping of water to long distances cheaper. But building infrastructure needs more time.

    • Pavan Srinath May 17, 2013 at 11:32 AM #

      Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We are far away from even meeting the marginal cost of water supply and production. Much of urban India does not even have volumetric pricing of water. We need to ramp up the pricing from marginal cost, to lifecycle cost (to account for capital investment, depreciation and refurbishing costs), to include full cost of sanitation, and then to full ecological cost (where the cost accounts for all the negative externalities caused in the region).

      Looking at minimal increases and pushing for interbasin water transfers will get us nowhere. Instead, it makes sense to explore other existing resources – primary among them groundwater. If lakes in a city can be managed well enough to augment water supply, why yearn for some distant river?

  3. Gopal May 20, 2013 at 11:26 AM #

    Every day when I drive past Hebbal lake, I see more and more sand/rubble mounds heaped besides it (to be used as filler material at the edge of the drying lake). I am talking mounds as big as houses here. The fences that once protected this lake are all broken down. It is clear that land-mafia is already blatantly encroaching it. The cops who roam the place seem completely oblivious to what’s going on. The authorities (if any) to take care of the lake seem to have not noticed that the fences are broken down.

  4. Pradeep Nair May 28, 2013 at 1:53 PM #

    Very pertinent point. The crisis is largely underestimated, if one were to go by the increasing amount of consumption of water and the wastage. A good point, well put across. But given the subsidy culture our society and administration are accustomed to, it would need an enormous push to break out of the inertia.
    By the way, I have given a link to your blog post in my blog.


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