Floating Islands – A Green Solution for Restoring Water Bodies
Water bodies across India are in a terrible state and in need of restoration. Floating Islands have come up as a prospective solution for lake restoration. This document presents the poor condition of the water bodies in India, analyzes the Floating Islands as a prospective solution, and compares it to other solutions to restore water bodies across India. After thorough analysis, we find that Floating Islands are actually the best way to proceed forward in terms of water-bodies restoration and rejuvenation. Floating Islands would help in removing pollution from the water bodies as well as restore habitat to enable complete restoration.
Water is the most important substance on Earth. 71% of the Earth’s surface area is covered by water. 70% of the human body is also made up of water. Water is the backbone of any economy. The biggest sector in India – Agriculture is heavily dependent on water. All other sectors such as real estate, manufacturing, etc also rely heavily on water. But, still water continues to remain one of the most mismanaged resources today.
The world is facing 2 major problems related to water – Water Scarcity & Water Pollution. Rivers are drying, lakes are dying, groundwater is receding, people have to walk miles to fetch pots of water, and many are dependent on tankers for their daily use. The uncontrolled population growth in India has caused water scarcity and the situation is getting worse daily.
Water Pollution is increasing day by day. We are dumping our untreated sewage and industrial effluents in rivers, lakes and sea thereby polluting them. Water pollution not only makes the aesthetics unpleasant, it makes the water more difficult to reuse; it kills the aquatic life thriving in the water-body; it pollutes the nearby groundwater table, breeds mosquitoes and spreads diseases besides other harmful effects. Restoring Water-Bodies has become an urgent requirement today to mitigate the looming disaster facing humanity. Floating Islands as a product have shown great promise towards restoring water-bodies. This document analyzes Floating Islands as a prospective solution.
The object of this document is to analyze the solution of Floating Islands, list its pros and cons towards restoring water-bodies.
Restoring Water-Bodies would have the following benefits and should be taken up at war footing:
- Make the water easier to reuse for all kinds of purposes
- Restore the entire ecosystem – Aquatic & Terrestrial
- Reduce Mosquito Breeding, thereby reducing diseases, better health and better life
- Improve groundwater quality and bringing up the water table
- Reducing dependency on distant water-bodies for survival
Organizations across the world have tried multiple solutions including setting up Floating Islands, treatment plants, adding bacterial solutions, adding other chemical solutions, etc to restore water-bodies. It is critical to analyze and compare these solutions, derive objective and subjective conclusions and apply these solutions in real life conditions.
What are Floating Islands
Floating Islands aka Floating Wetlands aka Floating Treatment Wetlands are islands that float on water. They are made up of variety of materials including recycled plastic. Wetland plants are planted on top of these islands such as Canna, Cattails, Bullrush, Elephant Grass, Vetiver Grass, etc. These are water loving plants. As the plant grows, the roots of these plants extend beneath the island into the water. Biofilm (accumulation of friendly water cleaning bacteria) forms on the surface of the roots and underneath the island. This biofilm and plants take up nutrients from the polluted water and thereby clean the water. Plants also disperse Oxygen into the water to further aid this process. Aerobic, Anerobic and Anoxic processes take place under the island to remove all kinds of nutrients from the water. If there are a lot of nutrients in the water, algae begins to form on the surface of the water which with time covers the entire surface and eventually kills the lake. Floating Islands help counter the problem of algae as well.
Additional benefits that the floating islands provide are increasing the DO (Dissolved Oxygen) in the water-body which helps in sustaining aquatic life in the water-body. Floating Islands help provide habitat to insects, fishes, birds and all kinds of aquatic and terrestrial life forms. This helps restore the food-chain and the ecosystem as a whole.
Floating Islands help increase the aesthetic appeal of the water-body. Flowering plants can also be planted on top of the island to add value to the landscape. All kinds of native plant species can be planted on top of the islands. There is no need of any special kinds of plant species. These plants also help uptake heavy metals from the water and therefore bio-accumulation of these toxic heavy metals.
Floating Islands can be implemented at lakes, rivers, nallahs, marine environment, city drains and all kinds of water-bodies. Floating Islands also help in increasing fish population and can therefore also be used in fisheries for better fish yield.
Floating Islands also help in storm-water treatment. Water during the monsoons carry a lot of sediments with it into the lakes and rivers. These islands act as barrier to the sediment rich waters and provide a downward direction to the particles in the water thereby aiding the process of settlement of solids from the water.
Floating Islands also help in reducing the effect of the waves and therefore also help in erosion control. These islands can help prevent erosion in marine environments, natural lakes, concrete channels in cities.
These islands can be manufactured in any size and can be customized based on the water-body. Recycled plastic is used to manufacture these islands which can help in controlling plastic pollution around water-bodies. Water level in lakes and rivers do not remain constant throughout the year and vary seasonally. Floating Islands adapt automatically and rise and fall with the fluctuating water level in the water-body.
Floating Islands are a natural, eco-friendly and green product which treats water without the use of machinery. It is easy to install and is extremely low maintenance. It can be installed and maintained by any layman/gardener. The Floating Islands need to be maintained similar to any terrestrial garden. It needs no full time attention or operator to run it. Also, not only it improves water quality but restores the lake as a whole since it also helps in restoring the entire ecosystem in and around the lake.
Aerators can be installed along with the Floating Islands to improve water quality and add Oxygen to the water. Fountains, surface agitators or diffused aeration can be coupled with Floating Islands to reduce the area required for treatment. Although it is not necessary to install aerators with the Floating Islands, aeration can help reduce area and cost of restoring a particular water-body.
The drawbacks of the Floating Islands systems is the lack of public awareness related to this product. A problem with water-bodies in Urban India is that there is no or little space near the lake or the river to setup Wastewater Treatment Plants to treat the wastewater entering into the water-body. In such a scenario, Floating Islands provide an additional benefit of using no additional area since they are installed directly over the water-body. Floating Islands also take more space than a conventional wastewater treatment plant. More work needs to be done on the design of these islands so as to improve the treatment efficiency so as to reduce the area required for treatment. Also heavy flow or other natural factors may damage the islands from time to time. Periodic maintenance may be required to maintain these islands.
Comparing Other Prospective Solutions
1. Setting up Wastewater Treatment Plants (STP & ETP)
The best practice to restore water-bodies is to completely prevent untreated sewage and effluent from entering the water-bodies. Only treated water under the permissible norms should be allowed to enter the water-bodies. However setting up Wastewater treatment plants at all places seems practically difficult in today’s India. National Green Tribunal states that there should be no construction or building on either side of a river for 33m or approx. 100ft. However we know that there are tens of thousands of households in this buffer zone around the rivers in all urban areas which discharge their untreated wastewater directly in the river. Removing these tens of thousands of households for the sake of river restoration seems an almost impossible task with the current state of affairs in the political system of India. If the government decides to remove the encroachments around the lakes and rivers, it would be met by widespread resistance from the people and the opposition political party.
We must try to setup decentralized treatment plants as much as possible. Wastewater Treatment Plants is a solution that is complementary to Floating Islands and both can go hand in hand. Another drawback of setting up Wastewater Treatment Plants is the huge capital cost required to setup these plants. Additional cost, manpower and chemicals would be required to run these plants successfully. Also, the cost of laying and maintaining pipelines is multiple times as compared to setting up treatment plants.
Even today, infrastructure related to treatment plants has the capacity to treat only approx. 30% of the wastewater generated from urban areas, let alone the rural areas. The ever rising population of India and unplanned developments hold further challenges for setting up treatment plants.
2. Adding bacterial cultures/ chemicals
Researchers have tried dosing certain kinds of chemicals and bacterial cultures in water-bodies for water-treatment but haven’t been completely successful in achieving the desired results. These chemicals/cultures are able to treat certain pollutants from the water but not all of them. Additionally they disturb the pH of the water and cause adverse side-effects to aquatic life and other flora-fauna around the water-body.
Implemented Cases in India
Floating Islands have been implemented at many lakes across India. Bangalore is the leading city in India in terms of implementation of Floating Islands, having installed it at Hebbagodi Lake, Puttenhalli Lake, Mahadevpura Lake, etc.
The largest Artificial Floating Wetlands in India are at Neknampur Lake in Hyderabad.
NEERI (National Environmental Engineering & Research Institute) Nagpur has installed Floating Islands at multiple lakes in Mumbai and Thane for testing purposes.
Hauz Khas lake in Delhi also has a few floating islands installed in it.
Clean-Water based out of Indore has the best floating islands in terms of Island quality and treatment efficiency and they have installed this at multiple lakes in Indore such as Police Training College, Musakhedi, Bicholi Mardana Lake, Harsola Lake, etc
Findings, Conclusion & Suggestions
It is very clear from the content above that water-body such as lakes, rivers, nallahs, ponds, etc need to be restored in India. There are multiple benefits to it and can no longer be refuted. Number of lakes in cities should have risen according to the rise in population but their numbers are shrinking constantly.
Floating Islands seem a very unique and eco-friendly solution not just for water treatment but for the entire lake restoration as a whole. It does not involve use of mechanical items, is low maintenance, restores habitat and has a lot of other benefits. But, since people and governments are not aware about this solution, it needs to be publicized more so that people become more and more aware of such solutions and actually implement it in real life situations.
Researchers and other organizations need to apply these, monitor test results and other changes so as to prepare cast studies of lake and river restoration projects to build credibility of the technology. Only when there are multiple successful cases of water-body restoration would this technology gain mass acceptance and only then can it be scaled. The amount of work related to water-bodies that needs to be done in the coming years, it is critical we test the best solutions and then implement them on a war footing.
People, politicians, media houses, governments, NGOs, private organizations, etc should make more efforts to sensitize people and make them more and more aware about the gravity of the situation related to water in India. Only when people realize the grave danger, would they actually start thinking about it and then do something about it.
It makes complete economic sense for the Government to invest on the most importance resource, Water. Investing in water and water-body restoration would prevent the looming disaster, provide multiple other benefits and also boost all the other sectors such as Agriculture, Real Estate, Manufacturing, etc.
Figure 1 – Floating Island International, Shepherd, Montana, USA
Figure 2 – Biomatrix Water, UK’s project at Manila, Philippines
Clean Water Solution; www.clean-water.co.in
National Green Tribunal; http://www.greentribunal.gov.in/