Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Ammonia Pollution in Yamuna River


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Nitrogen pollution

Mains level: Preventing river pollution

For the second time in a week, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) had to reduce water production capacity by 25 per cent after high levels of ammonia were detected in the Yamuna River.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2019:

Q. Consider the following statements:

  1. Agricultural soils release nitrogen oxides into the environment.
  2. Cattle release ammonia into the environment.
  3. Poultry industry releases reactive nitrogen compounds into the environment.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 3 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 2 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

What is Ammonia and what are its effects?

  • Ammonia is a colourless gas and is used as an industrial chemical in the production of fertilizers, plastics, synthetic fibres, dyes and other products.
  • Ammonia occurs naturally in the environment from the breakdown of organic waste matter, and may also find its way to ground and surface water sources through industrial effluents or through contamination by sewage.
  • If the concentration of ammonia in water is above 1 ppm it is toxic to fishes.
  • In humans, long term ingestion of water having ammonia levels of 1 ppm or above may cause damage to internal organs.

A cause of concern

  • The level of ammonia in raw Yamuna water was 1.8 parts per million (ppm).
  • The acceptable maximum limit of ammonia in drinking water, as per the Bureau of Indian Standards, is 0.5 ppm.

Where does Ammonia come from?

  • Ammonia is produced for commercial fertilizers and other industrial applications.
  • Natural sources of ammonia include the decomposition or breakdown of organic waste matter, gas exchange with the atmosphere, forest fires, animal and human waste, and nitrogen fixation processes.

How is it treated?

  • The DJB at present does not have any specific technology to treat ammonia.
  • The only solution it adapts is to reduce production at its water treatment plants.
  • In addition to this, the board mixes raw water that carries a high concentration of ammonia with a fresh supply.
  • The amount of chlorine added to disinfect raw water is also increased when high levels of ammonia are detected.

What is the long-term solution to the problem?

  • Stringent implementation of guidelines against dumping harmful waste into the river, and making sure untreated sewage does not enter the water are two things pollution control bodies are expected to do.
  • But, a more organic method agreed upon by environmentalists and experts is to maintain a sustainable minimum flow, called the ecological flow.
  • This is the minimum amount of water that should flow throughout the river at all times to sustain underwater and estuarine ecosystems and human livelihoods, and for self-regulation.
  • The lack of a minimum ecological flow also means an accumulation of other pollutants.

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