Baljinder Singh (55) of village Banur in Mohali cultivates 30 acres of land, which includes 5 acres of his own and remaining on rent. But he does not draw a single drop of ground water to irrigate his farm. He does not own a tubewell either.
He manages this thanks to the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) close by, and the Soil and Water Conservation Department, Punjab, which laid underground pipes from the STP to his fields to provide treated water free of cost. Otherwise, digging a tubewell to fetch water from a depth of around 700 ft would have cost him nearly Rs 7 lakh.
According to Baljinder, treated wastewater irrigation project has given us a new lifeline to agriculture in the area with more than 250 acres of land being irrigated using the method. The Banur facility in Mohali is a 4 MLD (million litres a day) capacity STP.
“Most tubewells in our area had gone dry, we were forced to utilise raw untreated water from a nullah. But due to installation of pipeline based irrigation project from STP Banur, we are getting assured round-the-year water supply and we are now not dependent on ground water,” he said.
The situation is changing in other parts of Punjab too.
Every drop counts
The falling water table of Punjab is a matter of grave concern as three-fourth of the state is dependent on subsoil water. The underground reservoirs are being over-exploited largely due to the overwhelming dependence of farmers on paddy, which is a guzzler. Over 13 lakh tubewells for which farmers get free electricity only compound the problem. The use of treated water for irrigation is a step in the right direction at a time when every drop counts.
In 2014, several farmers from village Rampura Phul in Bathinda district had opposed the treated water irrigation project in their village due to availability of ground water, this changed in 2019. This year, people approached Soil Conservation Department to supply them treated water for their fields.
“The water table in our village has gone down drastically and due to depleting ground water every farmer faced the choice of spending more for deepening of borewells. So, we approached Soil and Water Conservation Department for installing treated water supply project from the STP and they did it for us with government funds. Now, we are waiting to get round the year treated water soon for irrigation of our crops and there would be much less pressure on the ground water now,” said Malkiat Singh.
In Phagwara, there are 260 farmers who are beneficiaries of the STP located there. Ranjit Singh of Burna village in Phagwara has been taking treated water from Phagwara STP to irrigate his 50 acres field. Water of this STP is being used by the farmers of four villages — Burna, Khangura, Kishanpur and Palahi through 12 km underground pipes.
Experts say treated water irrigation has low operational and maintenance cost and reduces the burden on state exchequer accrued on subsidy payments to power department for providing free electricity to tubewells.
The Soil and Water Conservation Department had launched this project under ‘Utilisation of Treated Water from STPs for Irrigation’ a few years back, and has been providing treated water over three dozen STPs to irrigate nearly 18,000 acres. Department sources said free power to run tubewells for irrigation and un-regulated ground water digging are major impediments in promoting such alternate, but highly useful projects.
Under the scheme, the department sets up irrigation infrastructure from STPs by laying underground pipelines in fields, which are then handed over to Water User Associations to operate.
“The department has been planning to create more irrigation facilities from STPs so that over 50,000 hectares (1.25 lakh acres) can be irrigated. Already, the department has submitted proposal under ‘PMKSY-Har Khet Ko Pani’ for irrigation infrastructure from STPs,” said said Dharminder Sharma, IFS, Chief Conservator of Soil Department, Punjab.
Gurvinder Singh Dhillon, Map Officer, Chief Conservator Office, Chandigarh, said: “The recycling of water may have a greater impact on future usable water supply than any of the other technologies aimed for increasing water supply. Treated sewage water can be used for irrigation, industry, recharge of ground water and, in special cases; properly treated wastewater can be used for municipal supply. With careful planning various industrial and agricultural demands may be met by treated water thereby freeing fresh water for municipal use.”
Arwinder Singh, Divisional Soil Conservation Officer (DSCO), Headquarters, said that rapid advancement in urbanisation and piped water supply availability to rural areas in the state, has provided a source in form of continuous generation of waste water. The state, he said, needed to use STPs to lower diversion of potable water supply to agriculture sector.