Reviving Our Waters

  • Photograph by Stereostok/iStock/Thinkstock

IVLP participant Rajeev Lunkad discusses the need for smart water management for a sustainable future.

Sustainable design has been a way of life for Rajeev Lunkad throughout his architectural career. In 2005, he was hired to oversee the revitalization of Jaipur’s historic Jal Mahal, an 18th century palace. Not only had the monument deteriorated, but its surrounding Man Sagar Lake was also contaminated. Over the next four years, Lunkad led a public-private partnership (PPP), comprising almost 150 people, for the restoration of Jal Mahal and the ecological rejuvenation of the Man Sagar Lake through innovative water infrastructure solutions.

In 2011, Lunkad founded Human Project, a design process management enterprise that strives to find solutions for a sustainable way of life in sync with our culture and heritage. In 2014, he was part of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on the theme of “Managing Cross Border Water Resources.”

Excerpts from an interview.

What unique water management issues did you face during your work on the Man Sagar Lake?
The Man Sagar Lake posed unique challenges of scale and impact that I had never experienced before. 2005 and 2006 were still very early for reviving septic and polluted water bodies, so our team did not have an exact blueprint to copy. Here, two main nullahs, or water pipes, carried all of the stormwater through a highly urbanized area of Jaipur. This created a very polluted stormwater runoff—two to three times more polluted than raw sewage—which was destroying the lake and its habitat. There was also no on-site infrastructure to treat the water or manage the lake’s struggling ecosystem.


How did your team overcome these challenges?
After a lot of deliberation and workshops, we were able to create a unique solution: an in situ basin that would deal with the pollutants resulting from the stormwater flow.

First, we diverted the Brahmpuri and Nagtalai nullahs, creating a buffer zone for removing solid waste before entering the lake. Next, we constructed a de-silting trap, which removed pollutant deposits from decades of sewage disposal and provided a sediment treatment zone for the water. What transpired was a first-of-its-kind water solution in India.


Can your restoration model for the Man Sagar Lake be scaled to benefit larger water ecosystems?
What was achieved at the Man Sagar is absolutely replicable and scalable to most urban environment and water bodies, where stormwater is an important source of water. It is even replicable for India’s larger rivers like the Yamuna.


Please share your experience of the IVLP exchange visit to the United States.
The IVLP was a great opportunity for me to learn about global best practices and also take a look at challenges elsewhere, as I did not come from an environmental engineering or social activism background. My lessons about water infrastructure were learned on the job in Jaipur. The IVLP allowed me to gain a better perspective about water management issues. I also met some great experts in the U.S. It was clear that water is a highly divisive and contentious issue across the world, due to its scarcity and ability to support life.


The United States faces many challenges to fix its aging water infrastructure. How do you think the country can tackle these issues?
The high energy costs required to manage enormous water treatment plants; the massive dams that change the ecosystem for local inhabitants; and, the belief that money can solve all problems are all huge issues. The solution starts with educating people to be more respectful of our precious resources. The world looks up to America for direction—they have an opportunity to redefine water consumption and lead the way.


Do you have any other lasting takeaways that you would like to share regarding smart water planning in the future?
The clear takeaways for me were that water is a resource that needs to be freed from numerous structures and clearly managed by one central department with overreaching powers and resources to ensure water quality and availability. Some people have taken water for granted, while others have been deprived of it altogether. The availability of water is sometimes directly proportional to the socioeconomic well-being of its recipients. This needs to change.


Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.