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Sustainable water solutions for India — or else

India’s water woes are well documented.

The news keeps getting worse: Kornik, a town near the border with Tibet, went dry last summer because of reductions in snowfall and unpredictable rains due to climate change. “We are staring at an apocalypse,” write Vineeth Menon and Lakshmi Poti in a recent article in the Hindu Business Line.

The country suffers from decades of overuse of groundwater, wasteful and inefficient irrigation practices, pollution of lakes and rivers and erratic weather patterns that have left at least 75.8 million people without clean water.

Menon and Poti, consultants with the business advisor Intellecap, lay out two scenarios for India’s water future through 2050. In the first, the country proceeds along business as usual. By mid-century, total demand for water increases by 32 percent while supplies falls to 22 percent of current daily per capita levels. India has to import water.

In the more hopeful scenario, Indians adopt water-efficiency practices in all parts of their lives. Water-guzzlers, like PepsiCo and General Mills, convert to more sustainable water use. Technology also plays a role. Consumers use smart meters to remotely shut off leaky taps. Game apps encourage households to compete to see who can cut water consumption the most.

Atmospheric generators create water from thin air, as do bikes that extract water as you pedal. Flushless urinals, solar-powered flushing systems, dirt-sensing taps and self-cleaning surfaces are standard fixtures in homes, offices, and public institutions. Data helps farmers use water more efficiently. (Sensor-based systems are already helping farmers analyze the moisture in soll and control water released to crops.)

The second scenario includes markets for trading water through financial instruments, like energy and carbon credits. Australia has already laid the foundations for such a water market. Such market tools, including water licenses, access entitlements, and allocations, could be key to a water-safe future for India.

The coming water crisis, Menon and Poti write, “can only be averted if efficient practices are integrated into industries and services.”

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