“Five of the 20 most water-stressed cities in the world are from India. I hope that we do not pick up a newspaper one day and read that we have run out of water.” #Sustainable #Startup
It is inconceivable to imagine the blue planet without blue. Earth without water is earth with no life. Thus, it is ironic that the ones who need it are the ones who are polluting it to the extent that it spells doom for the entire planet.
Niti Aayog published the Composite Water Management Index in August last year which revealed some astonishing figures.
The majority of rural land under cultivation for two major food crops — wheat and rice — faces substantial water scarcity which poses a threat to food security. Moreover, about five out of the 20 largest and water-stressed cities in the world are from India.
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In such a scenario, it is heartening to come across individuals and companies working to provide solutions to our water woes.
Just like Blue Elixir, a Ranchi-based startup which addresses water-shortage problems by providing water management and conservation solutions for the past five years. The startup installs rainwater harvesting systems, wastewater treatment systems along with providing their consultancy services on various projects on water conservation solutions.
Started by Utkarsh Upadhyaya and his college friend Nishant Kumar, the company has worked on 110 projects in states like Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Delhi and Odisha.
On one hand, they have helped conserve close to 90 million litres of water through their rainwater harvesting systems. On the other hand, through their wastewater treatment systems, they have treated over 1.5 billion litres of water!
Gaining Technical Expertise
“Coming from a water-stressed state like Rajasthan, I knew how grave the problem of water scarcity is,” says Utkarsh co-founder of Blue Elixir.
It was during college that the two friends got the opportunity to work on the ground in Jharkhand and analyse the groundwater situation closely. “We learnt that not only is the groundwater table depleting, the water quality was also not good. Learning this helped us make up our mind on providing solutions to these problems,” informs Utkarsh.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the founders were very certain that the water management sector is where they wanted to build a career. Both Utkarsh and Nishant enrolled themselves in a five year integrated M(Tech) programme from the Central University in Jharkhand with their specialisation being Water Engineering and Management.
The programme was basically a Civil Engineering course with a focus on subjects like water management, urban hydrology, river engineering, irrigation, dams, hydropower generation among others.
As a part of their dissertation, they started working with the Groundwater Directorate under the Government of Jharkhand.
“During this time, we met our mentor, SLS Jageshwar, a pioneer in the sphere of rainwater harvesting in the state. He showed us the real problems on the ground and made us realise the importance of coming up with solutions,” recalls 27-year-old Utkarsh.
The on-ground work inspired them so much that Utkarsh and Nishant eventually ended up founding their own venture, Blue Elixir, in October 2015.
For their research, they looked at the different kinds of rainwater harvesting systems available in India. They also consulted with many experts from premier institutions like the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) to understand what kind of structures would work best for Jharkhand since that is where they were planning on starting.
The duo hosted awareness programmes in collaboration with Ranchi’s rotary club to make people understand the importance of the services they were providing.
“We first began visiting educational institutions and started speaking about rainwater harvesting and how that is a resource-saving solution,” informs Utkarsh.
Finally, in January 2016, they bagged their first rainwater harvesting project and the duo hasn’t looked back ever since.
Setting up Water Management Systems
Every time the duo gets a project in hand, Utkarsh and Nishant first carry out the feasibility survey where they look at the size of the rooftop and potential recharge zones in case of rainwater harvesting systems. Similarly, in the case of wastewater treatment systems, they take samples of the water or effluents to understand what type of solution would be appropriate to meet the client’s needs.
Each project takes anywhere from 10 days to four months to complete depending on the scale and the kind of project they carry out. Utkarsh breaks down the four services they essentially provide.
* Rainwater Harvesting Systems
These systems basically comprise three things: Collection of rainwater, filtration and recharge of groundwater or use of the water by the client as per their preference.
* Wastewater Management Systems
Each system differs based on the kind of effluents and the quantity that needs to be treated. Blue Elixir offers a normal filtration system using sand and their secondary treatment includes aeration to clean water, biological treatments, nanofiltration processes etc. They also employ the ‘Phytoremediation’ technique where living plants are used to remove hazardous contaminants from the effluents.
* Mine Water Management
The company also makes solutions available to the mining industry which has a lot of sites in Jharkhand.
Once the mines are dug deeper, they hit the underground water table. To ensure this water is not wasted, they treat it and use it for dust suppression in mining sites. This water is also treated using sand filters and activated charcoal to remove impurities and is used for domestic purposes in the mining sites.
* Consultation Services
Blue Elixir also carries out hydrogeological investigations and prepares investigation reports for industries. This is done so that the industries can meet the groundwater compliances and stick to the guidelines as prescribed by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA)
The team of four, including two other engineers, has helped several industries conserve and consciously use water thus ensuring that the resource is not further depleted.
Ravish Kumar, head of environment management cell at Triveni Earth Movers Pvt. Limited, a mining company, talks about how they have been able to effectively manage water on their mining site in Hazaribagh district.
“As per government body guidelines, if we extract a certain quantity of water, we ought to recharge 10 times more. Therefore, we needed a groundwater recharge system and upon further research online, we discovered that Blue Elixir was providing these services,” says the 30-year-old.
Blue Elixir set up a rainwater harvesting system for them with a collection tank of 20,000 litres of water which is stored in the monsoon period from June to September.
“We use this water in the bathrooms, for floor cleaning, vehicle washing etc. Once the tank is full, the extra water goes for recharging the groundwater table. Through their system, you can say we conserve at least 5 lakh litres of water in a year,” he informs
Overcoming Hurdles and Providing Solutions
Although Blue Elixir has been able to make a considerable impact through its water management and conservation systems, there are quite a few challenges that they have had to deal with.
“There is a lack of understanding of the importance of water conservation which stops people from embracing the solutions. This stops people from wanting to invest in services and projects that benefit the environment,” he explains.
He also adds that for them, carrying out the installation of their systems is difficult during the monsoon season.
Regardless, Utkarsh is hopeful for the future of the company and is working on introducing new solutions. He informs that now they want to venture into stormwater management that will prevent cities from getting flooded (due to clogging of drains) during the monsoons.
He is also pursuing a PhD on this subject from Central University which is helping him navigate this new vertical. Utkarsh says that they are working on a proposal that they want to present to the Municipal Corporation of Ranchi by next year.
As a bootstrapped startup, they are also in talks with investors to scale their operations. While Utkarsh wants to shift back to Rajasthan to focus on projects in the state along with managing Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, Nishant would stay back in Jharkhand and manage operations in the state along with those in Odisha and West Bengal.
“Environmental degradation and climate change is having a visible detrimental impact on ecology. It is time for different stakeholders to work together so that we can effectively manage our resources. I hope that we do not pick up a newspaper one day and read that we have run out of water. Conservation is the need of the hour,” he concludes.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)