Israeli water heroes come to Marathwada's rescue

Updated: Jul 07, 2019, 08:14 IST | Prutha Bhosle

As part of its largest non-defence project in India, Israel is designing a new looped water grid system to ensure that the 11 dams in Maharashtra's drought-hit district never run dry

Israeli water heroes come to Marathwada's rescue
Engineers from Israel are seen inspecting the Jayakwadi dam station. The team has been surveying the Marathwada belt for the last eight months, studying the rainfall patterns and water distribution network. The project is expected to be ready in the next five years

Long before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, leaders like David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol realised that Zionism would succeed only if there was enough water for its people. At the time, Israel with over 60 per cent of its territory being a desert and another 20 per cent semi-arid, was staring at a severe water crisis.

This is why Eshkol launched Mekorot—the National Water Carrier of Israel—in 1937, which was tasked with transferring water from the Sea of Galilee in the north of the country to the highly populated arid south, through a water grid. Israelis were also trained to be more prudent with their water use. The Consul General of Israel to Mumbai, Yaakov Finkelstein, remembers how every school would educate children on saving water. "They put stickers near taps in schools to create awareness," he shared, recounting his country's incredible journey to becoming a "water superpower" today.

Israel will now be using a similar ingenuity to help the water-starved Marathwada region of Maharashtra. The move comes a year after Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu visited Mumbai, and signed an MoU with the Maharashtra government, appointing Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran (MJP) and Mekorot to design the R10,000 crore water grid system in Marathwada. "Once completed, the project will provide water to a population of 30 million by 2050," said Romiel Samuel, Indian representative of Mekorot. The initiative is the largest non-defence projects of the Israeli government in India.

Israel to the rescue

According to Finkelstein, the Maharashtra government already had a concept of creating a water grid, but didn't know how to design it. "The Israeli Ambassador [Daniel Carmon] then asked the Consul General's office in Mumbai to put Mekorot in touch with the Maharashtra authorities," Finkelstein said. "Marathwada (65,000 sqkm) is three times bigger than Israel (22,000 sqkm). We are, therefore, humbled that the government chose us as partner for this crucial project," Finkelstein said.

Yaakov Finkelstein, Consul General of Israel and Romiel Samuel, Indian representative of Mekorot. Pic/Atul Kamble
Yaakov Finkelstein, Consul General of Israel and Romiel Samuel, Indian representative of Mekorot. Pic/Atul Kamble

Marathwada comprises eight districts—Aurangabad, Beed, Latur, Osmanabad, Parbhani, Jalna, Nanded and Hingoli—with around 12,978 villages. The region has always received low rainfall. The condition worsened in 2016, when more than 4,000 water tankers had to be deployed in the villages of Marathwada. "The northern parts get rain, but the south does not. Our idea, thus, was to connect the two with the help of a grid system," Samuel said.

Earlier this year, on February 24, the masterplan created by Mekorot was passed in the Maharashtra Cabinet. "A plan for Aurangabad and Jalna has been sanctioned. Our team of Israeli engineers had been surveying Marathwada for the last eight months. We also studied the rainfall patterns of over 100 years, before coming up with a looped water grid model," Samuel added.

Working in loops

The looped system allows water to not only flow forward, but also in reverse, subject to the technical feasibility of the system. The bigger advantage of the looped-type water scheme is the reliability of the grid. In the non-looped water grid, if a failure happens in some part of the network, the entire water supply shuts down. In a looped type, however, water flow can be distributed in several paths. This means that if one portion of the system fails to function, water can flow towards consumers in a different path, minimising the risk of water shortage or shut down.

As part of the plan, 11 dams—Jayakwadi, Lower Dudhna, Siddheshwar, Yeldari, Vishnupuri, Majalgaon, Lower Manar, Upper Painganga, Sina Kolegaon, Manjara and Lower Terna—will be interlinked. Samuel added, "Earlier, if water in Jayakwadi, which is the largest source of water for the region, depleted, there was no means of transporting the resource to other dams. But with the grid system, dams that go dry, will also be supplied water." The project will connect tertiary pipes to the main pipeline and eventually supply water to all the villages. "It is up to the authorities to supply water to homes 24/7 or in installments. But the dams will not remain dry."

Also Read: Mumbai Rains: City's water stock more than doubled in 5 days

A new model

Mekorot is, however, not replicating Israel's model in Marathwada. "Israel gets about 600 mm rainfall, whereas Marathwada receives 700 mm rain. The population in Israel is eight million, while Marathwada has 20 million people. The two regions are also geographically different, so, the same model cannot be replicated here." The team studied the Gujarat and Telangana water grid systems before preparing a plan for Marathwada. "We play the role of consultants; the state government will ensure that the project is executed and maintained thereafter. They have plans of completing this project in phases in the next four to five years," Samuel informed.

When asked if India would find a way out of its water crisis, Finkelstein said that it was "never too late". "The government can have the best of policies, but it is the consumers who need to value the resource. Israelis are charged for every litre of water they use. When you spend on a product, you tend to use it wisely. Therefore, Israelis use minimum water on a daily basis. Here, people don't think twice before wasting water on washing their vehicles. In Israel, however, you find many dirty vehicles because cars are washed once a week, and perhaps with only one bucket of water."

Recently, Haribhau Bagade, current speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, said, "I hope this (water grid) is the last project ever required for Marathwada." "This is the most beautiful thing I have heard. It means that the water grid will be sufficient to cure Marathwada of its water woes permanently," Samuel said.

Also Read: Water crusader Aabid Surti's one man mission to save water

Expert speaks

Noted water expert Pradeep Purandare said that Marathwada has enough number of dams, but it's the governance that has caused water shortage. "Even Jayakwadi dam does not have sufficient water. How will interlinking it to other dams solve the issue? This is where political vendetta comes into the picture. Mekorot's project will only be feasible, if neighbouring dams provide enough water to Jayakwadi."

Dams that will be interlinked

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