I had a very momentous trip to Nashik on 17th July 2009. Shantaram Shenai (Shantu) was the gracious host and the purpose was to showcase to Dr. Rebello and myself the ‘immense’ progress made in treating the sewage of Nashik city by using the Biosanitizer technology. [within the same link do read about the US patent that the product has got, which is a proud achievement]
We were joined by Yogesh Bhardwaj, resident of Nashik, who has actually implemented the application of the Biosanitizer process and Dhimant Joshi from Mumbai who is a friend of Shantu and a brilliant engineer who has himself followed the biosanitizer over the years and is skilled at understanding and deploying it.
The trip became even more interesting in the background of the recent climate change talks at the MEF G8 summit at L’Aquila, where confusion reigned on the 2 degree limit above pre-industrial levels of temperature and the apparent lack of a road map to achive the same. What I saw at the Nashik STPs clearly has the potential for revolutionary change and providing a very objective and measurable road map to contribute to cutting GHG emmissions.
I have known Shantu since 1993-94 when as a teen still in college I followed his appeals to segregation and experiments with decentralised waste management at Andheri(W). I contacted him around 1995 and literature from the Green Cross Society was among my first building blocks in my deep interest in decentralised waste management. So here I was again with my Guru on a trip to another of his projects.
I had been hearing a lot of praise about the work being carried out at the Nashik Sewage Treatment plants since 2 years. Virat Singh from Westside Plus had covered the experiment extensively (Andheri Innovation a success in Nashik). Last year in May 2008, I also had the opportunity to visit the work being done by Shantu for the golf course at the US Golf course where sewage water was being treated and used for watering the golf course. In the process the Biosanitizer effects had permeated the surrounding ecology and we had witnessed fresh water in the middle of the golf course which is surrounded by the sea.
And on 17th I finally got to be in Nashik to see the efforts.
The first plant I visited was the Tapovan plant which treats 78 mld [million liters per day] of sewage from Nashik before releasing it into the Godavari. The second facility was Morvadi [4.5 mld] and the third was Panchak. It is important to remember that this is the stuff generated in our toilets and in our bathrooms and kitchens – excreta and urine – the bath water, washing of clothes and utensils. All of it travels via a network of pipes and aggregates at such facilities.
At Tapovan the largest of the facilities the sewage treatment has been split into two streams. One stream is treated using the conventional method of huge aerators churning the turbid sewage and in the process creating a whirlpool which throws the sewage upto two feet above the surface, exposes it to oxygen and corrects the BOD levels.
In the second stream the treatment primarily comprises of letting the sewage be exposed to a correct quantity of the Biosanitizer, which is placed in pouches in various parts of the holding ponds. As the sewage is continuously exposed to the biosanitizer a large amount of oxygen is released from the biosanitizer thus correcting the BOD levels. The pictures below indicate what is happening. We began the trip by seeing the large holding ponds which were using the biosanitizer and ended with seeing the ponds treated with the conventional aeration technology. And the results can be called nothing short of phenomenal.
The sewage treated by the conventional method even after treatment and in the final holding pond before being discharged into the Godavari was extremely alkaline and corrosive. Froth was being whipped up as the wind created wave action. The froth was then flying away from the ponds and was completely burning away all the neighbouring vegetation, metal fences and anything else in the way.
Previously in the holding ponds holding the sewage treated with the bio sanitizer we could see thousands of small fishes, some of us dipped their feet into the water, all of us held the water in our hands and smelt it and Shantu even applied some in his eyes to show us that there was nothing to worry. It is important to remember that this is the outcome from what is sewage in the first stage.
After visiting the Tapovan plant we travelled 6 kms downstream to see what can only be called magic. The purpose was to see first hand the quality of water downstream.
We reached the destination and along the way also passed a sugar factory whose effluents are released into the Godavari.
At the designated spot we had a very beautiful view of the Godavari and did a tasting of the water. It was a most refreshing taste. We were told that almost 300 mld of drinking water is being observed available as a result of the bio sanitizer properties which have been introduced into the water. Once the treated sewage water is introduced upstream it is also impacting other effluents which join the stream. A missing piece of data was the amount of effluent being discharged by the sugar plant, which if not treated well would most certainly be very toxic and we were down stream of the same. But that apart the visible and the felt effects were most pleasantly surprising.
We left exhilarated from the site to visit even more magic at the Morvadi plant.
At the Morvadi plant 4.5 mld of sewage is treated only through the biosanitizer method. No aerators are used and the only energy requirement is for pumping the sewage to a height from where by gravity it flows through a series of tanks containing the biosanitizer. The plant must have once been the outskirts but is now surrounded by urbanisation. Even at the primary inlet chamber of the plant, where the sewage is allowed to enter there is only faint smell of the dark turbid liquid being sewage (the exposure to biosanitizer starts here itself.) As we came to the first pond we were greeted with a dense mass of vegetation, which had formed a green carpet over the sewage. Underneath, the sewage was continuously being worked upon and flowing into the secondary and tertiary ponds. Instead of any offensive smell of sewage the place had a feeling of freshness to itself and a number of vegetables were seen growing. The lack of any smell indicated that no CO2 or methane – potent GHG gases – were being produced. The lack of any mechanical aerator clearly leads to enormous savings in electricity bills and consequent emissions from power plants. The whole combination is more than win-win.
We finally came back to our hotel room for a break. We still had to meet Satish Magre the Chief Engineer who took the initative and the risk two years ago to use the bio sanitizer. Thankfully around 6:45 pm he indicated he was free and we were quickly into the car and off to Panchak STP which Mr. Magare wanted to show us. Panchak is the latest STP set up by the NMC. It was great being with the eco-hero himself. Mr. Magare had taken a big risk in going for a technology which eliminates capital expenditure in the current form and makes the requirement for certain kinds of human resource redundant. Being a mechanical engineer himself he had to face the wrath of peers for using method which made mechanical engineering less important.
At Panchak, which a new plant we could see numerous improvements in design and the same marvelous results with the added benefit of a passionate guided tour by the man himself.
I have previously seen the effects and working of the bio sanitizer in Dec 2005 where Dr. Bhawalkar himself had come to apply a dose to the Lokhandwala Lake which I have been involved in saving since a decade. Around that time the lake had a very bad bloom of red algae as a result of the persistent washing of clothes on one of its sides. Over a period of six months we had seen the red algae disappear completely.
As I understood better on this trip the Bio sanitizer crystals (four come in one pouch) are in effect a whole rain forest in themselves. Just as in a forest you dont get any offensive smells even though a lot of death and decay is taking place, the bio sanitizer has in effect powerfully packed the properties of one whole forest in itself and releases need based oxygen, which is an important ingredient for correcting a number of situations. Those tiny, silent, life less crystals doing so much is nothing short of amazing.
While more tests and assessments are certainly required along with peer review, it is quite clear that the bio sanitizer represents a quantum leap in our understanding of handling numerous environmental problems and places at our disposal a corrective means, which clearly removes excuses for inaction.
The challenge is to understand whether current climate change policy will recognize such technologies, analyse them better and if proven beneficial how soon will the scale up happen. The challenge is to understand whether our current institutional structures are tuned towards responding proactively towards climate change mitigation?
1. Even as we approach COP15 one of the most important data sets will be the accurate estimates on the GHG emissions resulting from the complete life cycle of the sewage treatment process. Also what are the changes if any in the emissions arsing from the mechanical process vis-a-vis the bio sanitizer process.