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What Water Fix Do You Have at Your Office?

When a company says 100,000 litres is their daily demand, how much of it is owing to inefficiency and fixes they need? How much is due to lifestyle choices? How much is due to conservation fixes? The efficiency fixes are easy to identify, track and disseminate information on (eg. Aerators on taps, low pressure shower heads, recycling of gray water, smart meters, and in the case of energy pumps, motors, lighting, and such). Most solution providers that you reach out to will have their stories to tell and case studies to present, both on energy and water savings. These will largely be centred on a technical fix. Some widget that they have designed and installed.

But the conservation stories or the life style choices (doing with less, cutting down waste through individual action, raising thermostats to reduce cooling loads, etc) will be difficult to track. And these are based on consumer education, motivation and action. They are the most difficult, and most potent - much more than the efficiency fixes.

I guess what I am trying to say is that .. Let’s get the data on how water/ energy has been saved so far in typical city settings. Armed with the results of such pilot investigations, make a strong, realistic pitch for a demand management strategy that works in the Bengaluru context. This is not going to happen by getting supply side chaps in the government for whom big spending is all that will be interesting. And they won’t, or can’t, solve your problem at your apartment or industry. If you want self-reliance and resilience for your own long-term sake, ‘demand side management’ is the best thing since sliced bread.

In short, one needs data and a thorough understanding of how savings is being achieved among consumers today. AltTech Consortium provides for this… and there are, frankly few across India or the world who know how to blend the dynamic on cost efficiency and sharp solutioning.

Overall, I think, if anyone is trying to work to brings savings at community or city scale, the aim of any communication strategy should be to debunk the myth that a supply side solution is at all an alternative. It is not. Never can be into the new future before when we have exhausted our rivers’ ability to supply, and have brutalised our lakes and groundwater strengths.... We should call to question the supply behemoths and raise the profile of efficiency and conservation as an energy / water resource. This in a nutshell would be the foundation for a people's movement on the demand side.

Those Supply-side Guys are the Bane of our System!

It has become expedient for supply institutions (or supply influencers) to set up within their organizational ambit, a demand side program. They do it because of imposition from the outside, say, by the World Bank or some other worthy entity. Some of the people I have known have played that role when with the Bank and with multilateral institutions like the USAID or ADB or ADEME. Then when they persuaded the Government at the Centre or in states in India, to set up the Bureau of Energy Efficiency to plan and implement all the right things on the demand side, much to their dismay and horror, they found the Government had positioned the BEE within the organizational structure of the Ministry of Power - the country’s head priest on supply with behemoths like NTPC, NHPC, PGCIK, SEBs under their wings. It was like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop. BEE became their poster boy who danced to their tune.

Supply-side approach can never moderate Demand

In my humble opinion it does not make to play both sides of the energy/water equation. The focus has to be on the demand side to address the problems of runaway demand and explore opportunities to moderate it. With few exceptions, a supply side orientation will never be able to moderate demand - it will only work at satiating it. And in the process, accentuate the problems of financing, environmental impacts, and supply side inefficiencies. On the other hand, a demand side orientation costs less, is environmentally sound, and works towards moderating demand through deployment of efficient technologies and practices ( eg WEN program) and its impact gradually relieves the pressure off the supply behemoths.

The issue before us is … where in the demand continuum must one focus on, and how. Should it be in the noisy, acrimonious and often self-serving domain of advocacy - adding to the shrill voices of activists and the media that track and report them to the chagrin of the supply behemoths - thus creating suspicion and divide between the supply protagonists and the demand apologists? Or should it be in the patient, quiet work of testing, and validating sound end-user technologies, practices and solutions including policies that drive their market acceptance.

The Sydney of the Cruel Irony of Water Efficiency Achieved Well

It was Lady Mayor Clover Moore... the CEO of City of Sydney in the early 2010s, who gave a free hand to the small team the city administration formed for creating a Sydney Decentralised Water Master Plan. It was built from scratch on a blank canvas where no water strategy ever needed to exist given Municipality's brief to exclude water services. And this was done in a local council administration which was male dominated.

The City of Sydney's credibility and water position got a big boost when a whopping A$ 8 million grant came in from the Federal Government for building one of the largest urban storm-water harvesting schemes in Australia.

The City had never won anything more than A$2 million from the Feds. Despite this, the City administration and the good Lady got snubbed by Sydney Water which refused to offer any cooperation.

It was an interesting (and a historic) moment of lack of gender balance when the Lady Mayor was invited to attend the meeting with the Minister for Environment (also a lady) who personally came to hand over the cheque to the Lady Mayor in the presence of the Federal Member of Sydney (a lady).

That stormwater harvesting scheme allowed the City to build a local non potable system. She was part of the celebrated demand-side project that the Sydney City Council and the utility executed when the dynamic Ms Moore was the mayor.

Sadly the utility dismantled it by 2015 when demand for water fell by 30% thanks to sharp strategies of the Lady Mayor. The cruel irony is that they dropped water price and encouraged greater use for fear of loss of revenue!

This is the challenge with all Govts and with supply-side thinking. This is a story of a water supply network which has become the backbone on which other recycled water network could be expanded.

The idea of decentralised Water that Sydney practised, even if for a short spell, is a story that every Indian city needs.

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