Change of plans

This week, we had a pretty eye-opening tour of the Valankulam tank by Mr. Ilangovin, an engineer from the Tamil Nadu Department of Public Works. The whirlwind tour took us from the encroachments surrounding the tanks, to the inlet points of Valankulam, to the hospitals that feed their waste into the tank.

While the primary goal of the field trip was to understand the catchment area of Valankulam tank, our secondary goal was to gather data. Specifically, we needed to understand how much wastewater each structure creates and whether or not that wastewater is toxic.

Our first stop was the bus station that borders the tank. Mr. Ilongovin worked his connections and let us have a discussion with the manager of the bus station. He told us that they wash 150 buses a day and use approximately 100 liters of water per bus. That means that total wastewater per day is 150 X 100 = 15,000 liters of water per day. This wastewater is also not treated or filtered. Luckily, it was not toxic wastewater.

Our next stop were the encroachments that surrounded the Valankulam tank. At first, I was relieved to see that they had a closed toilet system. However, the residents informed us that these toilets were not working. The women had their own private toilets, but then men had none. To make matters worse, the waste flows directly into the tank, unfiltered.

The first picture is the toilets under maintenance and the rest are pictures of the encroachments and the residents who were kind enough to let us take photographs of their neighborhood.

We were told that there were 1,000 families staying in the encroachments, with an average of 5 persons per family. So, that made the encroachment population equal to 5,000.  If we assume that each person creates 137 liters of wastewater per day (yes, I found this to be quite high as well, but I checked it with a variety of sources. Anyone else have any other numbers?), this meant that 685, 000 liters of wastewater was created per day at the encroachments. I found this estimate to be quite high…

Our next stops were the hospitals that surround the area.The frustrating part of that experience was that the hospital workers did not keep very good records of wastewater usage. All of the data that we collected was approximate, and the values changed throughout the conversation. In addition, the hospitals claimed that they filtered non-toxic wastewater and toxic wastewater separately, but then their stories changed.

We were pretty hot, frustrated, and confused by the time we regrouped at the Siruthuli office. Below, you can find some of the inlet points of Valankulam that are clogged with waste.

After our site visit and a conversation with Dr. Rohilla from Center for Science and Environement in Delhi, we realized that we needed to take a step back. Our initial plan of figuring out how to deal with the sewage problem in Valankulam was a little bit too ambitious. After all, we are not engineers and we only have four weeks to complete the project. In addition, we were informed that in order to make those types of decisions, we would need to conduct water samples, a topographic analysis, and measure how the tank has changed over time. This was clearly out of our comfort zone.

We are looking into providing high level strategy for how Siruthuli should embark on its plan to clean up Valankulam. The first thing that we identified was that Siruthuli needs to do a thorough analysis of the tank. This includes the biological, chemical, and physical components. It is only then that a decision can be made about how the water can be treated. Additionally, we found that there are several other large NGOs who deal with water quality. If Siruthuli partnered with these NGOs, it could absorb the knowledge and experience of these larger organizations. Lisa, Cordula, and I are also tapping into our personal and professional networks in order to find potential partners. Anyone know of any NGOs dealing with water quality in India?

So, I am feeling a little more optimistic about our project now. I am excited aboutthe product that we are creating!

In other news, we have been taking yoga classes at the hotel, and everyone has been progressing tremendously! Take a look at Sverre doing a pretty complicated pose, and Lisa observing him very seriously… (thanks Mercedes for the pictures!!)

Last night, we went to Anjappar, a tasty South Indian restaurant focused on Non-Veg food. We were served on banana leaves, and everyone had a great time. It’s funny–everywhere we go in Coimbatore, we are treated with such hospitality. I am going to miss this when I go back to the US…


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4 Responses to Change of plans

  1. sakenk says:

    Thanks Balaji! That website is very helpful.

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