Technologies developed in Israel to recycle the country’s precious water resources are being used to help save India’s Noyyal River

India’s polluted Noyyal River.

India’s polluted Noyyal River.

Prof. Yoram Oren first saw how chemicals from textile dyeing factories were poisoning India’s Noyyal River during a year-long stay in the country’s southernmost state three-and-a-half years ago.

Oren, an expert on water desalination from Ben-Gurion University, spent his sabbatical year setting up a water research laboratory at Karunya University in Tamil Nadu state. A passionate advocate of water rights, he saw the effects of river pollution on local people, agriculture and wildlife and decided to return to Tamil Nadu and help local water experts save the dying Noyyal.

“Water pollution is a very serious problem, including because water from the Noyyal River is used by local farmers for irrigation. But now they can’t use the water, so it affects food production,” Oren told ISRAEL21c in a telephone interview from his laboratory in India.

A sacred river in local Tamil culture, the Noyyal originates in the Vellingiri Hills of the Western Ghats and flows for about 160 kilometers through Tamil Nadu before joining another river, the Kaveri.

The Noyyal once provided water for around 20,000 acres of rich agricultural land.

However, toxic industrial waste — especially runoff from cotton dyeing and bleaching at the many textile factories in Coimbatore and Tirupur — have choked the Noyyal, destroying local agriculture and killing wildlife.

Tamil Nadu’s garment export industry began to boom back in the 1970s, when a combination of cheap labor and good growing conditions for cotton and global demand for cheap textiles provided a boon for local garment factories.

However, toxic effluents from these garment factories run into the Noyyal, poisoning its fish and rendering the surrounding land barren.

So bad is the pollution that it now affects groundwater in more than 95 villages in the region. Residents can no longer use it as a drinking source, while farmers who previously relied on the Noyyal to irrigate their crops have had to leave their lands.

To rehabilitate the polluted Noyyal, Oren is looking at how a technique called nano-filtration can be used to filter out harmful textile dyes from water.

A relatively new technology, nano-filtration uses membranes to remove dissolved solids such as pollutants.

Nano-filtration has been hailed as a good solution for developing countries where there is a shortage of drinking water, because it is relatively inexpensive and because unlike other water purification techniques, it does not strip essential minerals, such as calcium, from water.

“Nano-filtration also saves energy compared with other techniques, because it does not remove all components from water, which makes it cheaper,” Oren adds.

According to Oren, nano-filtration is used in Israel in water purification. Israeli industries also use the technology to remove chemicals, allowing the same water to be recycled for further use in industrial processes.

While Oren is positive that nano-filtration can help rehabilitate the Noyyal, he says that after years of pollution, it won’t be an easy task.

Source: Israel 21c