Water Conservation – Learnings from high income countries

Improved water resources boosts countries’ economic growth and contributes greatly to poverty eradication because water and economy are inextricably linked. Water security affects both developed and developing countries, with the maximum threats of water-related risk falling mainly on developing countries. Many poor countries face unreliable water supplies, and hence require higher investment to achieve water security. Below mentioned are some of the water conservation learnings from high income countries.

1. Domestic wastewater treatment by Johkasou systems in Japan

Using this system, flush toilets can be used in unsewered districts. A small-scale johkasou can be installed at a low cost and in short time and have high resistance against earthquake and other disasters. Miscellaneous domestic wastewater can be treated, contributing to prevention of water pollution, conserving water in small rivers. Treated water can easily be reused for various purposes as a reliable water resource. Moreover, sludge from johkasous can be used as fertilizer or for biomass production.

2. Water Desalination in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia lies in a deserted location. The country makes the highest production of desalinated water worldwide. To make the conservation even better, they have started to convert all of their desalination plants to be powered with solar energy.


3. Water metering technology in UK

UK is world leader in water metering technology which enhances the way their residents can adjust their water usage using online databases. Citizens can get an inside look using these smart meters on what their water is being used for and how much is utilized. This allows households to know where their water consumption is used the most and alerts them is there are any substantial increases which could signal a leak or some other problem. Country also provides incentives for home owners to install water saving technologies and smart appliances to promote overall water conservation.

4. Desalination and water recycle in Israel

Israel has always been a leader in water conservation. Country recycles 85% of its wastewater and is aiming to meet 50 percent of its farming needs through recycled water. They have more than 300 desalination plants which provide water for the country and export over $2 billion worth of filtered salt water to other countries in need.

5. Energy watch program in San Francisco, U.S.

The city implements water conservation practices on its property owners. These include utilizing low-flow shower heads, water saving faucets/toilets and installation of insulation on water heaters in attics to reduce heating and cooling costs. The San Francisco Energy Watch is a program that rewards property owners monetarily for investing in energy saving appliances. Like Boston, San Francisco has energy codes and effective enforcement to reduce energy and water use.

Legal mandates, institutional arrangements, roles and responsibilities and regulation/ compliance towards water saving, water conservation and water reuse

Due to high rate of urbanization, climate change, rapid growth of population and increasing demand for potable water, the world is coming across huge concerns related to water crisis. To deal with this issue, considerable amount of attention is being given to practices which would help in water saving, water conservation and water reuse across the globe. These water related practices can either be self-volunteered or legally mandated. Legal framework plays a crucial role in the management of water resources at a range of scales, from local to national legislation covering domestic, agricultural and industrial use. Policies and legal instruments provide a framework to cope with competing demands and also legally bind the users to practice such actions which would eventually lead to water conservation. Legal framework, thus, acts as an important instrument in overall water management as it protects vital resource in order to achieve the overall goal of equitable and sustainable water use. In some cases, however, if the legal mandates are not in place, the countries have programs, schemes, guidelines, strategic plans etc. for wider acceptance amongst the general public.

1. Water Conservation – India

National Water Policy (2012) of India is concerned with the management of water resources at the national level. It mentions about various different ways to conserve and efficiently use the water resources. The policy encourages the use of rainfall, desalination, artificial recharging projects, improved water use technologies supplemented with participation of local communities for water conservation. It emphasizes on water use efficiency by evolving benchmarks to measure water footprints and water auditing to promote and incentivize efficient use of water. It also suggests that the recycle and reuse of water, including return flows should be the general norm and identifies water pricing as an important instrument for ensuring efficient use and reward conservation. Recycle and reuse of water after treatment to specified standards should also be incentivized. Community participation plays a crucial role in conservation of river corridors, water bodies and infrastructure.

National Water Mission (NWM) under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) has been prepared to ensure integrated water resource management helping to conserve water, minimize wastage and ensure more equitable distribution across and within states. This mission develops a framework to optimize water use by increasing water efficiency by 20% through regulatory mechanisms with differential entitlements and pricing. It seeks to ensure that a considerable share of water needs of urban areas is met through recycling of waste water and water requirements of coastal cities are met through adoption of new and appropriate technologies such as low temperature desalination technologies that allow the use of ocean water.

Draft National Water Framework Bill, 2016 is also an intended measure by the government to provide an overarching national framework with principle for protection, conservation, regulation and management of water as a vital and stressed natural resource, under which legislation executive action on water at all levels of governance, including citizens and their associations, public and private institutions and bodies of all kinds can take place.

In addition, the Model Bill for the conservation, protection, regulation and management of groundwater, 2016 is another intended move to restore and ensure groundwater security through availability of sufficient quantity and appropriate quality of groundwater. It emphasizes on economical and efficient use of groundwater in a way that it is not wasted, depleted or contaminated and gives priority to rainwater harvesting, catchment conservation and recycling and foster reuse of water for non-potable uses amongst different sectors. It also seeks to suggest ward groundwater committee to impose stipulated conditions for providing rooftop rainwater harvesting structures in the building plan of an area of 50 m² or more which shall be binding on concerned government agencies sanctioning or approving building plans.  Both bills could have had a large implication in controlling exploitation of ground water and managing river water, but in the absence of being enacted, the threat of water shortage and recurring drought situation continues.

National Building Code (2016) contains regulations and set of minimum provisions related to choice of materials, various different methods of design and construction of the buildings for rainwater harvesting in different land uses. It also offers various strategies for water efficiency and water conservation and how water and wastewater management can be done during construction.

Since, water is a state subject in India, each city has different legislation for water conservation practices in the country according to the Municipality Building Rules. For instance, in order to conserve water and ensure ground water recharge, the Karnataka government in February 2009 announced that buildings, constructed in the city will have to compulsorily adopt rain water harvesting facility. Residential sites, which exceed an area of 2400 sq. ft., shall create rain water harvesting according to the new law. In Indore, rainwater harvesting has been made mandatory in all new buildings with an area of 250 sq. m. or more and a rebate of 6 per cent on property tax has been offered as an incentive for implementing such systems. However, in India it can be seen that the implementation of policies and rules is very weak and people generally don’t adhere to these regulations.

Recently, Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) was commenced as a campaign for water conservation and water security focusing on 1592 Blocks which are critical and over exploited, spread across 256 districts. The campaign runs through citizens’ participation during the monsoon season and an additional phase for states receiving the North East retreating monsoons is also being planned. Also covered under the JSA is government’s ambitious plan to provided piped drinking water to all rural households by 2024 under the Jal Jeevan Mission.

2. Water Reuse – Jordan

The Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) has issued its water strategy and policy in 1997 & 1998 which were published in 2002 (MWI, 2002). It has five issued documents which satisfy the relevant legislative requirements of Article 5 of WAJ Law 18 of 1988.

  • Jordan’s Water Strategy (MWI, 1997a),
  • Water Utility Policy (MWI, 1997b),
  • Irrigation Water Policy (MWI, 1998a),
  • Groundwater Management Policy (MWI, 1998b),
  • Wastewater Management Policy (MWI, 1998c).

Jordan’s Water Strategy states that the wastewater shall not be managed as “waste”. It shall be collected and treated to standards that allow its reuse in unrestricted agriculture and other non-domestic purposes including groundwater recharge. The strategy emphasizes on the adoption of appropriate wastewater treatment technology for blending of the treated effluent with fresher water for appropriate reuse.

Groundwater Management Policy largely fulfils the statements contained in Jordan’s Water Strategy. The policy statements set out the Government’s intentions concerning groundwater management aiming at development of the resource, its conservation, protection, management and measures needed to bring the annual abstractions from the various renewable aquifers to the sustainable rate of each. It identifies water meters on groundwater wells, prohibition of well licensing and fees and charges as an instrument to control over pumping of ground water.

Water Utility Policy addresses the issue of water resources shortage and rapidly increasing demands for all categories of water use in Jordan through water resource management. It mentions about the importance of conservation of surface water and ground water and the potential of wastewater for reuse along with the optimized use of brackish water. The policy recognizes the need of policies and programs to conserve and manage water properly. It defines Water Conservation as a means of enhancing water availability by managing both supply and demand. It also mentions the importance of utilization of improved water saving technologies and management practices, and the behavior modification through public awareness programs for water conservation.

Jordan has a separate Wastewater Management Policy document which considers treated wastewater generated at existing wastewater treatment plants which is added to the water stock for reuse, as an important component of the country’s water resources. According to the policy, Industries shall be encouraged to recycle part of its wastewater and treat the remainder to meet standards set for ultimate wastewater reuse. The policy focusses on use of innovative approaches for wastewater treatment considering both technology and cost and finally adopting and generalizing design criteria, performance specifications and guidelines for such systems.


Despite the fact that majority of the earth’s surface is covered with water, most of the countries are facing water crisis or other water related issues presently as very limited share of water available is suitable for living organisms and other purposes such as irrigation, industries etc. Water scarcity is more severe in fast developing countries like India and other low and middle income countries like Sri Lanka, Jordan, Bangladesh, Morocco etc. due to factors such as population growth, rapid urbanization, changing lifestyle, global climate change and so on. Considering the scenario, substantial focus is being laid on water conservation to improve the water scenario in such nations.

Water conservation refers to the minimization of loss or wastage of water, preservation and protection of water resources or efficient use of water. The ultimate goal of water conservation effort can be focused to reduce unnecessary water intake by its efficient use, save or preserve water for future use or recycle the existing used water and reuse. Water conservation can be carried out through self voluntarily practices but generally these are done through government interventions with the help of provisions in policies or some legal mandates. Water conservation practices can either be community led or based on technological innovations. Though community led practices can also involve technology, they are largely community driven. Other than the two, there can also be some other measures which largely involve role of government institutions to be carried out such as pricing.

It can be observed that amongst all the water conservation practices, rainwater harvesting (RWH) has become attractive in domestic as well as agriculture sector across the LMICs as it is economical and cost effective. It is proving to be a successful practice in domestic areas. However, considering these facts, recharge through RWH should not be randomly taken up in any area rather aquifer mapping should be a prelude to groundwater recharge measures. Other than RWH, some other measures such as recycle and reuse of wastewater which involves high investments have not gained much acceptance and popularity and have not been practiced much widely till now. Other than these, minimalistic use of water efficient measures can be seen amongst LMICs due to the costs it involves and thus, pricing is the only instrument used by the government to ensure water efficiency.

Since water crisis has become an alarming issue amongst various nations, water management requires urgent government intervention. Water conservation practices need to have legal mandates for better implementation and wider acceptance in the form of acts, laws, policies, strategic plans, programmes or schemes at national, state or local level. Some of the policy and legal provisions that have been effective in meeting water related challenges in other countries include measures like decentralized governance in Brazil, accountability of the citizens for water resource recovery and reuse (RRR) in Vietnam, wastewater management policy in Jordan etc. However, despite legal framework and policy provisions, the practices might not result in achieving the desired outcomes unless people of the country strictly adhere to the rules and regulations or monitoring mechanisms by the government are in place and being implemented.


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