Drinkwell: A Pioneer of Potable Water

Photo credit: Drinkwell

Water is the essence of all life on Earth, and access to potable water is an absolute human right. To resolve the global arsenic water crisis that affects over 200 million people across 70 countries, Drinkwell is pioneering an alternative method for providing potable water to affected communities by transforming existing arsenic-affected tube wells into local profitable water enterprises. The organization provides affected villagers with water filtration technology and business tools, and in turn, the villagers become entrepreneurs of these mirco-water businesses.

Drinkwell filtration systems extract the arsenic and do it efficiently. “Whereas current solutions use Reverse Osmosis technology that wastes 40%-60% of input water, Drinkwell wastes only 1% of water,” their website explains. The polymers, or resin beads, are infused with nanoparticles which extract arsenic from water flowing through them. These polymers are regenerable and can filter water for years.

Continue reading

Is That a Real Swan?

Robot swans patrol Singapore’s reservoirs, hunting pollution. PHOTO: CoExist

Robot swans patrol Singapore’s reservoirs, hunting pollution. PHOTO: CoExist

The  National University of Singapore has deployed robot swans to swim around water reservoirs and keep an eye on water quality. Presently, monitoring Singapore’s reservoirs is done by humans in boats, which is impractical, slow and not very scaleable. The NUSwan can swim tirelessly, continually testing pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity (cloudiness) and chlorophyll. The results are transmitted wirelessly back to researchers, the GPS-equipped swans sweep the lake without duplicating any already-tested spots, and they automatically return to base for recharging when batteries run low.

Continue reading

Xandari’s Rivers and Waterfalls

At waterfall #4, with morning sun coming through. (Photo credit: S. E. Inman)

Seth recently posted about Xandari’s forest trails, so I thought I would follow up with another post on one of the forest’s best features, the river running through it. The small river that winds along the edge of Xandari—indeed, forms the resort’s southern boundary—is home to five waterfalls. Although they are no Niagara Falls, they are still well worth the trip down to see them, especially the Gran Catarata (“Grand Waterfall”). There, the water is funneled through a narrow channel before falling over fifty feet into a small pool. Because the water flows west, the sun always rises from behind the waterfalls (east); the result is some pretty spectacular displays of light as the sunbeams form a kind of a halo around Continue reading

WED 2013 : Taste the waste… of water

WED 2013 - Raxa Collective

On June 5, we’ll celebrate World Environment Day. This year UNEP focuses on the theme Food waste/Food Loss. At Raxa Collective we’ll be carrying out actions and sharing experience and ideas. Come and join us with your ideas and tips to preserve foods, preserve resources and preserve our planet.


 Most part of the world water consumption depends on food production. Every year 30% of it is wasted. We can reduce the wastage of water reducing the food waste. The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) has released a short documentary titled ‘Taste the Waste of Water’ Continue reading

WED 2013 : Learning To Finish That Meal…

WED 2013 - Raxa Collective

On June 5, we’ll celebrate World Environment Day. This year UNEP focuses on Food waste/Food Loss. At Raxa Collective we’ll be carrying out actions and sharing experience and ideas. Come and join us with your tips to preserve foods, preserve resources and preserve our planet.

As a child, I was always told to finish eating my meals because there were starving children in poor and faraway lands that would gladly trade places with me.  I could not exactly picture what that meant, and the rebelious part of me always wanted to stick a postage stamp on my plate and send it to these children.  No one who grew up with such abundance, I think, could trade the fresh memory of a full meal for a clear picture of hunger.

Being from Texas (and proud of it, so don’t mess with that), with its long “bigger and better” history and wonderful mythology of abundance and its can-do certainty, I did not “get it”.  Now, the hazy memories of those dinners and parental wisdom are coming into perspective with my ability to follow and understand news from around the world.

Continue reading

Idukki Dam Reservoir

The Idukki Dam stands between the two mountains Kuravanmala and Kurathimla,839 metres high and 925 metres high respectively. The dam is situated near the Cheruthoni Barrage, with the Kulamavu Dam to its west. These three together extend between rocky hills to form the largest reservoir in Kerala. Idukki District is known for its dam and also for being Kerala’s forest district with an astonishing 50 percent of its total area under green cover. Idukki Dam is the world’s second and Asia’s first arch dam. This reservoir and the famous Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary are located 50 kms from the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Continue reading

Sustaining Livelihoods with Water

Guest Author: Rania Mirabueno

Mullaperiyar Dam

Mullaperiyar Dam taken by Milo Inman

View from Mullaperiyar Dam

View from Mullaperiyar Dam taken by Milo Iman

Sustainable Water Fountain

Sustainable Water Fountain taken by Seth Inman

While enjoying this beautiful view into Tamil Nadu from the top of the Cardamom hills in Thekkady, Kerala, I began to think about what was behind me. A massive water system, four gigantic pipes directing water from the Mullaperiyar dam to its neighbor, Tamil Nadu. It instantly hit me how vital water is to human civilization that no pie chart or graph can depict any clearer.

The dispute of water from Kerala to Tamil Nadu rings close to my heart with similar water challenges to my home in the Southwest region of the United States. The Hoover Dam is the lifeblood for populations nearing more than 3 million in Los Angeles to Phoenix. Sustaining livelihoods of people will require creative collaborations among cities and increasing educational initiatives about how our actions as a civilization can negatively or positively affect our land and resources, especially water.

The real question is how does this EZ-fill water fountain found at Cornell University fit in with Mullaperiyar dam? Continue reading

Needing Mr. Miyagi

Anyone who has ever been to ski slopes may have experienced small, pint-sized, infant skiers buzzing down the hills.  As a veteran skier of 18-years, I proudly proclaim that I was once one of these daring children.  However, I learned this past weekend that through the years I have lost this fearlessness when I was challenged to try snowboarding.  I would love to boast that my first run was very similar to this video, but the aching of my entire body keeps me truthful as if to say, “Ha!  You wish, Meg!”

Several times I met the side of the mountain and regardless of the many parts of my body that hit, the solid surface was resilient to my attacks; in fact, the bruises that continue to surface would argue that it fought back with increasing firmness.  The absence of soft, powdery snow brought my awareness to this season’s lack of typical winter weather, and it drew my attention to the resort’s snow-making cannons.  Continue reading

Profile: Mereena & Sustainable Housekeeping

A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of speaking with Mereena, the head of the housekeeping department at Cardamom County. Mereena has been here since 2003, and started from the bottom rung of the housekeeping department ladder. Mereena explained to me how she was successively promoted six times.

She began as a trainee housemaid, and then progressed to official housemaid and then to senior housemaid. Next she became housekeeping desk assistant, then trainee housekeeping supervisor, and then housekeeping supervisor and finally Room Experience Officer and head of housekeeping. Taking full charge of the department required thorough and extensive knowledge of housekeeping but maintaining that authority has required managing responsibly.  In multiple senses of that term.

Continue reading

The Organic Solution

When rain seems like only a dream, taps are turned and water begins to flow from sprinklers onto family lawns across the U.S.  In many areas, water has not been given the value it deserves making this precious resource easy to take for granted.  As the global population and industrialization and urbanization increase, the rising demand for water will only cause more harm to the environment.

The UN estimates by 2025, a combined population of 2.8 billion people across the world will face freshwater drought or “scarcity,” and according to water.org, about 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals go to irrigated agriculture; with these statistics, turning the water tap on to quench the backyard will soon no longer be an option.

Water is important to just about every natural phenomenon and artificial activity.  The more I think about water the more I realize the countless times I use it throughout my day.  I mean it is my drink of choice…and the main ingredient of many other favorites.

So, as water conservation becomes increasingly more urgent, I began to research some efforts geared to the alleviation of the largest use of freshwater—agriculture.  The media is saturated with advertisements of drought-resistant and other GMo and hybrid plants.  And in response to the ever-changing climate, chemical-producing companies are racing to release the first species of drought-tolerant corn.  They claim these genetically modified and hybrid plants may be the answer to a potential food crisis, but they also seem to have an ulterior motive of extorting millions of already economically drained farmers.

While these developing drought-tolerant plants may be one aspect of reducing the stress of water conservation, another solution has already been proven and researched that farmers can do instantly without paying for special seeds from these mega producers. Continue reading

Sustainable Operations in Kumily

Sustainable tourism and operations are what initially drew me in to coming to Kerala, India at the Cardamom County. Water conservation is a central issue facing the world today. Coming from Canada, which is said to store up to 20% of the world’s fresh water, the idea of not having water to drink is a strange one. Of all the water on our planet, 97.5 per cent is sea water and three-quarters of the remaining 2.5 per cent is locked in polar ice caps. The tiny bit left over is drinkable. Natural rainwater harvesting is a common practice throughout much of the Thekkady area and Kerala in general. Pots and larger storage vessels like the one pictured below are often used by the locals to hold rainwater that is abundant during the monsoon season from June to August.

It is considered fairly clean for use in washing clothing, dishes, and people themselves. The bottled water, however, in the form of individually packaged Aquafina bottles poses an issue. Fortunately Pepsico and Aquafina do use UV treatment, reverse osmosis, ozonisation, carbon filtration, and sand filtration to treat their water and has a protocol of giving back more water than is taken in a program called “Positive Water Balance”. Pepsico India saved 836 units more water than it consumed in 2009, which is an uplifting thing to hear about.

On-site organic farming results in a great number of useful plants and herbs which can be made into oils, creams, and pastes which are central to the Ayurvedic Centre run by certified ayurveda practitioner Dr. Vinu. Among the more interesting herbal remedies is from the serpentine root or rauvoifia tetraphylla which provides an antidote for snakebites.

Continue reading

Damn Dams and Macaque

A couple of days ago, I hopped on a motorcycle (my first in 21 years!) helmed by Saleem, and headed across the border of Kerala into Tamil Nadu. I hadn’t realized until this trip just how proximate the neighboring state was, and that I had actually walked into it several times without realizing I had done so.

Saleem had plans to take me through the measure of forest that extends beyond Kerala to the penstock pipes that carry water from the Periyar River down to Tamil Nadu and a hydroelectric plant. These pipes are an attraction unto themselves, and looking over the slope down which they run provides a scenic view of the lush farmland of this TN valley.

At that time, I didn’t know– and Saleem only hinted at– how fraught with political tension the very spot we were standing is (and has been) to the Tamilians and Keralans. The provenance of this conflict is a century-old treaty between the Princely State of Travancore (which is now Kerala) and the Secretary of State for India, representing what is now Tamil Nadu. Essentially, this treaty gave to Tamil Nadu, an otherwise arid area, the right to use water from the Periyar River for irrigation– for 999 years. This agreement, for all intents and purposes, created the Tamil Nadu you see in the picture above. Continue reading

The Estuary Part Two: Update

*The nested bird in my last post was a Green-backed Heron, and the woodpeckers were Lineated Woodpeckers. Other birds I’ve encountered are Great Blue Herons, White-tipped Doves, Muscovy Ducks, several hummingbirds and kingfishers, and more.

My kayak trip was the same as usual, with constant bird sightings and several howler monkeys in the trees above me. What changed was the end of the excursion. I decided to try kayaking down the stream of estuary water flowing into the ocean and see if I couldn’t catch a few waves close to shore before calling it a day. The stream of water was fairly shallow, with little piles of sand causing tiny swells of the sort seen over rocks in whitewater rivers. I had fun navigating these “water-bumps” and eventually made it into the ocean after a bit of shimmying past the shallower spots where I got grounded. I immediately set to getting past the already-broken waves so that I could catch one as it rose, like one does while boogie boarding or surfing. After getting buffeted around a bit by the incoming waves, I managed to turn the kayak around just in time to catch a small wave back to shore, paddling as I neared the sand so that momentum would carry me up the beach. Delighted by these first results, I continued to attempt kayak surfing for the next fifteen minutes before it got dark. Once it did, I dragged my kayak in and looked forward to doing the same the next day.

However, the estuary was a completely different place the next day. Very much open to the ocean, the mangrove sanctuary was continuously losing water. Slightly wary, I entered my kayak and paddled forwards. At first, the differences I noticed didn’t seem too grave: the water was shallower, but also very clear – I could actually see the bottom at some points. As I continued into deeper waters, the water darkened again but stayed quite shallow at some points. Once I got to the open area with the mangrove trees dotted around, I was able to distinctly see the effects of an estuary at a different point in its cycle: the mangrove trees had water-markings on them showing that the water levels had descended well over a foot. Here are some before-and-after shots: Black mangrove tree with distinct water markings, and branch before and after.

To read more about estuaries and their cycles, you can visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s educational tutorial. Follow the links on the right-hand column to learn about their importance ecosystem services and more.

The Estuary Part One

The estuary waters are always flat and calm, with practically no current apart from what the wind kicks up, and the OceanKayaks’ sensitivity to motion allows you to maneuver very adeptly around mangrove trees or floating logs. All the kayaks are doubles, but I have only gone out alone in the back, and later the middle, seats, joined either by Harvey in another kayak or by the winged microfauna (who tag along even when Harvey is keeping me company).

The estuary runs for over a kilometer and a half in a winding path, but there is also a larger open area with mangrove trees dotted inside it. The trees in this wide space are lower and farther apart, allowing you to get up close to the tree and check out the birds’ nests within. A couple times I have been able to see birds sitting in the nests up close, and it is fun to test how slowly you can approach them without scaring them away.

Paddling the estuary is a great activity because you can choose your pace very easily. If you want to take two strokes and then slowly glide along for a minute while looking for birds in the trees, then you can do so, as long as you make sure not to drift too far to one side and bump into a mangrove. If it is already getting dark and the mosquitoes are taking advantage of this fact, then you can see how much of a wake you can leave as you speed towards the beach and watch fish jump out of the water to get out of your way. I generally use the slow and photograph-friendly method on the way in to the estuary, where I can get shots of caterpillars or woodpeckers, and reserve the faster cardio-workout for the way back. I have been thinking about taking a kayak out onto the cove, where the waters seem pretty calm once you get past the first couple waves. I’ve never been on a sit-on-top kayak in the ocean before, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

Water, (bottled) water everywhere…

Since I arrived in Bangalore airport on June 3, I’ve heard about Baba Ramdev and his highly publicized, nine-day fast. What I learned today was that, while Ramdev was being treated for weakness due to his hunger strike, another, less-publicized hunger striker, Swami Nigamananda, was being treated in the same hospital. Nigamananda had been fasting for nearly four months (114 days!) to protest illegal pollution in the River Ganga, a holy site for practicing Hindus and also a vital source of water for nearly 400 million Indians. He died this morning, the last days of his strike overshadowed by Ramdev’s.

Before I left the U.S., many friends and family members had told me emphatically, don’t drink the water! When I would ask why, they replied as if it was common sense: well, it’s dirty. Some had apocryphal stories about some friend of theirs who had gotten sick after drinking from a tap in India, and I typically left it at that. But Nigamananda’s death raised the question again in my mind: why is water in India dirty? Is this just some immutable fact, some geological curiosity, or is it rather a human-created problem worth addressing?

These questions aren’t easily answered, just as any question posed about a nation as diverse and large as India is not. There are as many reasons why some water is dirty and some is clean, and investment in hi-tech treatment facilities isn’t always the difference (though it’s a start). I’m only recently wading into the dense information surrounding Indian water policy, the role of industrial polluters along India’s rivers in dirtying the water, and what is being thought of to clean up the situation.

Because let’s not forget: if clean tap water can’t be had, besides boiling all water, the alternative for the consumer is…bottled water. In the States, more and more people are coming to an awareness of the destructiveness of bottled water, but in most areas of the U.S. clean tap is readily available and people have a simple choice to make in how they get it. In India, this choice is not so simple.

The availability of clean water is a pressing environmental, health, and national security problem for the resident of India. But it’s also a problem for the traveller. As the number of empty bottles of water in my room mounts, and as the monsoons continue to dump rain on me all day,  I have to think: am I doing everything I can to combat this problem? As I increase the amount of boiled water I drink, I also am inclined to think more broadly. I’ll let you know what I come up with as I investigate the problem further.

In the mean time, here’s a video (by the same women who did ‘The Story of Stuff,’ which I highly recommend, though I sometimes can’t stand her tone) about bottled water v. tap water, with an emphasis on the U.S. India makes a guest appearance about half-way through, though in an unexpected way.