A Sad Story of a Droplet

A droplet got formed on one of the dark clouds some 10000 ft high in the sky. The droplet wished to visit earth and be useful to the humans and ecosystems that were thirsty for water.

It approached Lord Varuna who rules the world of oceans to seek his blessings and advice.

“Oh, descend following the winds and glide into one of the water reservoirs next to the great city of Mumbai in India. You will experience an interesting journey” smiled Lord Varuna.

The droplet followed the advice and landed into one the large reservoirs next to Mumbai.

At first, it shuddered for a while, to get rid of the dirt it had picked up while descending.

“Too much pollution by the particulates here” the droplet said.


We know that the city skies are clad with a blanket of haze most of the times, especially in winter. Particle accumulation in the air column is nothing uncommon or extraordinary.  Satellite based data and information on direct solar radiation can give a good assessment of the status of the “lid” of particles over a city. Ångström turbidity coefficient ( β) and Linke turbidity factor ( TL) are some of the parameters used for such an assessment. Particulate lids over Indian cities have not been studied.

It would be great such assessments are carried out in addition to collecting data from ground-based particulate monitoring stations. These assessments when done over time (detecting the change) can be very revealing.

Mumbai in a Haze


But let us not talk about particulate pollution here and continue with our story.

The droplet swum around and met several other droplets to know more about the life in the reservoir. Few droplets said that there was a lot of silt at the bottom, with very low oxygen to breath warning not to sink down. Some droplets couldn’t stand the warm temperature on the surface and eventually evaporated.  So, the droplet decided to stay in the middle like most of us do in our lives for survival.

Jumping out of the reservoir over the spillway was a great fun and in the process the droplet got oxygenated. Didn’t know that this oxygen was going to be a savior later.

Few kilometers downstream, the droplet met with some strangers. These strange droplets contained species such as ammonia. In the process of hustle bustle and mingling (like we see happening in Mumbai local trains), some of the ammonia molecules got inside the droplet. The droplet wasn’t comfortable with this uninvited guest. Conversations with other equally affected droplets explained the source as discharge of untreated sewage and even industrial effluents.

Why don’t these humans take care of the sewage and industrial effluents to avoid contamination of rivers by ammonia? The droplet said.

It seems levels of ammonia in Indian rivers have been on the rise. Locations such as Wazirpur in Yamuna have been flashed in the media for high ammonia concentrations. But ammonia is not the only issue – Another droplet who had more experience said so.

As the droplet moved further downstream, it saw floating plastic bags, oil patches, foam and fecal matter, hugging the banks. And it was appalling to see people taking religious dips in such waters.

“What is happening to the so-called river cleaning projects?” The droplet was almost screaming. “Oh, keep shut or speak in a deep voice” a senior droplet said, “Our PM should not come to know that you are speaking the truth. Elections in India are not far away”.

The droplet sailed further downstream now staying in the mid-section of the river to avoid pollution from the banks. The same strategy of the middle-path was followed.

A water works was seen few kilometers further. The droplet decided to get into the intake well – as journey along the river was certainly risky.

“Good decision” said a neighboring droplet “you will get cleansed here and get an opportunity to meet the humans and their engineered infrastructure”

The droplet got into the waterworks with the baggage of ammonia molecule.

Here, there were many chambers the droplet had to navigate. In one chamber, the droplet was made to float to let the heavy particulate matter settle with help of molecules of alum. Then there was a filter bed that the droplet had to penetrate to get rid of the finer particles. However, the ammonia molecule stayed and did not leave the droplet in these particulate removal processes.

Finally, at the end there was a chamber that looked like the one in concentration camps of the second world war. It had the process of chlorination and the droplet was suffocated with chlorine molecules. Here the ammonia molecule got transformed into a new species – chloramine. The droplet thought this may improve the situation. But a fellow droplet educated saying that the situation was contrary.


When water with high levels of ammonia is treated in a plant which uses chlorination to treat water, there is a chemical reaction which forms chloramine. Chloramine has various short and long term health impacts, which is why water polluted with ammonia should not be subjected to chlorination. According to Chloramine.org, people with liver or kidney disease and those with hereditary urea cycle disorders are at increased risk from the consumption of chlorinated water. In India we have not done research enough on the impact of such “derivatives”.


But let us continue with our story.

The droplet left the water works and entered the public water distribution system, now carrying with it the unwanted and not desirable chloromine.

The journey in the water distribution pipes wasn’t very pleasant either as similar to the river banks, the droplet experienced other contaminants entering the water pipe, now of the microorganisms category. The source in some occasions was sewage as the sewer pipes were laid close to the water pipes and there were leakages and cross overs.

The droplet was pumped into a water tank at the basement of a housing complex. The tank wasn’t well cleaned and had a lot of slime. The droplet was by then accustomed to the scene of contamination and was feeling no shame. Indeed, there was a huge difference between the current state and the “purity” that the droplet had when left the dark cloud that was 10,000 ft high.

When the droplet arrived at a 10th floor house of the housing complex, it was pushed to a water purifier that mimicked the water works, the droplet had earlier gone through. Here the processes were filtration, a bed of activated carbon and a radiation by UV light. That was more torture but the droplet felt cleaner and better. Some chloromine was removed and microorganisms who were jumping around were put to rest.

There was a fundamental question however.

Why don’t the humans take care of the pollution in the river systems and protect the pipes carrying treated water in the first place so that there is no need to “re-treat” the water when it reaches home? Mumbai’s 20 million population will surely have 2 million house water filters that are installed because water delivered is not safe. So much material and energy consumption and a challenge to dispose the used filter material, spent activated carbon etc.! The droplet wondered.

But we continue with our story.

The droplet was now in a jug on the table where a dinner was about to commence. The head of the house poured water from the jug into a glass to drink. The droplet was right there.

The head of the house however noticed that the glass wasn’t clean. There seemed to be some dirt floating on the top.

“Oh, must change the glass” he said and walked across to empty the glass in the washbasin.

The droplet was disappointed – after all the trouble taken to reach the house, it was sent to the drain!  the fate of this droplet was just like the lives of many of us – “unutilized” , “underutilized” or “unnoticed”

The droplet continued the journey  through the maze of sewer network, facing contamination once again, passing through a sewage treatment works for partial purification and then landing  into the oceans that were equally dirty and full of micro-plastics. This was really the dark side of the  water cycle.

Having understood the “ultimate truth”, the droplet decided to meditate on the surface of the ocean. It resigned to the fate of being evaporated. It was like going to the heavenly abode as most of us opt to do when we are frustrated in our lives.

The clouds at 10,000 ft high were waiting for the droplet to return.

Lord Varuna smiled.

 


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