The Floating Wetlands of Chokera
Water is our lifeline and there is only a finite amount to be shared by all the living beings on this earth. From all the water resources on this planet, only 2.5 per cent is freshwater. A tiny fraction of this small percentage flows through our rivers and lakes from where we source it.
While the water crisis is a global issue, it is already a reality for Pakistan, as we are well below the threshold of a water stressed country, now categorized as water scarce. Our per capita water availability has reduced to only 930 cubic metre per year.
Faisalabad is an important industrial city and was called the Manchester of Pakistan, and is a text book example of environmental problems caused by rapid industrialization. Discharge of untreated industrial effluents into the environment, polluting water sources and soil of the city. This contamination is a key threat to people’s health. The conventional wastewater treatment methods like the Activated sludge process, Membrane bio reactor and Rotating batch reactor etcetera, are not only inadequate but also not compatible with the resources of the local industries.
Even though the situation is quite grave, there are solutions that can help us deal with this existential crisis. The floating treatment wetlands is an efficient, economically feasible and eco-friendly solution that is available for the treatment of the industrial wastewater.
WWF-Pakistan, in collaboration with National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE) and Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), has replicated the concept of floating wetlands in Chokera. There are stabilization ponds, covering an area of approximately 400 acres, with the capacity of 20 million gallons per day, to manage the city’s wastewater and the floating wetlands have been built in these ponds. The mats or floats are made from thermopol sheets and the common reed plant species, locally known as naro, are used.
The plants are grown on the soil-less buoyant mats, allowing them to grow in water that is typically too deep for them. Their roots spread through the floating mats in the water creating a large surface area. The resultant ecosystem helps capture the pollutants converting them into harmless by-products, and cleaning the water enough to be reused for irrigation purposes.
There is still time before the final water test of the area that can be compared with the pre-installation water quality test, but from the results proven from around the world, the key outputs include improved water quality, restoration of the habitat and carbon sequestration. The 3Rs (reuse, reduce and recycle), are at play here and the hope is that the reuse of the treated wastewater for irrigation purposes will take away some pressure off the fast depleting ground water.
Floating treatment wetlands have been around for some time now and have shown positive results. One example is the use of the floating treatment systems at Lorette, Manitoba in Canada for successful water treatment of rural storm water. Another example is the use of this system at the Telibandha Lake to treat the municipal wastewater polluting the lake in Rajpur, India.
Standing near the ponds in Chokera, we were told that not long ago, passing through this very area was a mammoth task because of the smell of the ponds. However, the situation is headed towards a positive change; an indication being that the birds that had stopped visiting the place could be seen around the ponds now.
Fatima Arif is Sr. Officer Digital Media, WWF-Pakistan.