At a recently concluded roundtable, experts called for exploring multiple approaches to water quality monitoring and setting standards for the country to follow

At a time when government agencies and research institutions are adopting diverse approaches towards collecting water quality data from rivers and other waterbodies, it is important to ask three crucial questions: Do we have clarity on the larger objective of water quality monitoring?  Is our methodology and frequency of data collection attuned to that objective? Do different datasets from disparate sources talk to each other?

Experts, who converged at a roundtable on water quality monitoring hosted by the Tata Centre for Development at UChicago in Delhi last week, floated the idea of developing a water quality monitoring protocol that will help in setting the standards of monitoring and reduce constraints in collaborating with others.

“Such a protocol will define the scope of multiple approaches to water quality monitoring—be it grab sampling or sensor-based data collection—and also guide institutions on how to increase efficiency and accuracy of monitoring,” said Pawan Labhasetwar, Head of Water Technology & Management, CSIR-NEERI.

Titled ‘Water Quality Monitoring: Driving Decision Making through Actionable Data & Collaborations’, the roundtable saw the coming together of scientists, researchers, policy advocates, and social entrepreneurs to discuss how to influence policy on water through actionable data.

Water-to-Cloud project

Arguing that policymakers need real-time access to ground-level information, and a system that can quickly and efficiently derive actionable intelligence from data, Supratik Guha, Professor at the University of Chicago, demonstrated how ‘Water-to-Cloud’ project is monitoring and mapping water quality of India’s rivers through powerful data visualisations in the form of heatmaps which can be used to identify and pinpoint time-varying sources of pollution, control outbreak of infectious diseases and identify effective sanitation interventions.

Water quality data for effective policymaking

According to experts, lack of comparable data and their impact on livelihoods or environment limits the usage of water quality data in any meaningful manner. We need to establish cross-sectoral linkages to exert greater influence on policy decisions, they argued. Similar suggestions emerged on the question of driving policy decisions and stakeholder collaborations with the help of data.

“It is important to present policymakers with the economic costs incurred due to water pollution. We also have to document good practices to convince the government about the transformation that can be brought,” said D B Gupta, Senior Consultant at the National Council of Applied Economic Research.

“To convince politicians, we need to establish strong correlation between water and health. However, it is not easy to pinpoint the cause of a disease by looking at health data,” said Sumit Gautam, Senior Programme Lead at CEEW.

“We have to come up with a Water Quality Report so that all those who are working in this domain have a reference point, and both policymakers and common people can understand the condition of water resources,” argued Raman VR, Head of Policy at WaterAid. Emphasising that developing trust on institutional data is important, he called for strengthening institutions so that they become more confident in the data they share in the public domain.

A pan-India platform for better water quality monitoring

The experts proposed formation of a network of hydrologists, medical practitioners, technology people and social entrepreneurs who would collaborate and look at every component of water monitoring starting from dearth of actionable data and lack of access to creating cross-sectoral linkages and a platform for startups that use technology to create affordable products.

“It is encouraging to see academia, civil society and social entrepreneurs coming together and evincing great interest in launching a pan-India network on monitoring water quality and driving policy decisions,” said Leni Chaudhuri, Country Director, Tata Centre for Development at Uchicago.