Urban Water Resilience in Mumbai

Research Fellowship Proposal​

“Urban Water Resilience in Mumbai” aims to present a comprehensive understanding of the threats to urban water systems facing Mumbai and create a city-wide integrated apparatus for interventions that can mitigate these issues. 

Water systems in coastal, tropical cities with high population densities such as Mumbai face several threats, from cyclones and rising seas to acute water scarcity by contamination and erratic weather. Further, increased incidence of heat waves and drought in tropical regions will necessitate increasing our water consumption, while relying on a system that is already over-extended. Seasonal flooding (more frequent now due to erratic rainfall patterns) threatens to contaminate local water infrastructure, which would increase our dependence on water piped in from outside of the city boundaries – the availability of which is also limited and subject to fluctuations in rainfall patterns over larger areas. 

This project intends to set forth a conceptual understanding of water systems in cities as a function of regional environmental factors such as geology, ecology and climate, in conjunction with a data-driven analysis of urban and human water requirements.

There is already a large volume of data available on the city’s climate, geology, and water infrastructure, enumerating the strengths and drawbacks of each system. The first part of this project involves obtaining data about Mumbai’s water systems, and synthesizing the existing secondary and tertiary data into a cohesive set. The intent is to present water issues (flooding, water scarcity, drought, degradation and pollution) as a whole and not as individually analyzed parts. This would involve comparing available datasets and trends that are not otherwise associated with each other. For example, data on water scarcity in the city or our water supply infrastructure will be compared with data on climate, geography, flooding, effluent systems, and stormwater drainage. The emergent data allows us to get a clearer picture of water-related issues.

Second, opportunities within the synthesized data where the city’s water infrastructure can be ameliorated are identified. Using technologies and practices for urban built environment and landscape design, a network of complementary interventions across city-wide systems such as forests, coastal ecosystems, arterial roads, or railway corridors can be created. In creating the network, “areas of interventions” are identified as ecologies, watersheds, ecoregions, and urban catchments. The framework for the adaptation of these interventions will be based on the holistic understanding of Mumbai framed in the first part of this project. A flexible systems-based organization of interventions that focuses on the relationships between the elements of a system (or multiple systems) would be suggested, rather than imposing a rigid set of design-based options.

Third, the methodology of integration of the identified interventions into the larger infrastructural systems that exist in the city will be created. This part of the project suggests a system that incorporates multiple intervention strategies into an existing infrastructure, instead of focusing on a particular site and creating isolated, hyper-local designs or program interventions that may not benefit most of the city. This system works in tandem with existing and proposed future infrastructures to reduce incidences of climate-driven natural disasters and water resource depletion.

This project will use the processes above to visualize the challenges and opportunities in our system as an interconnected whole, and develop a circular system of interventions to address multiple water-related problems in the city. While there are elements of such a system that are outside of the scope of our research (such as ecological studies, policy, citizen action or governance), the place of these elements will be considered when the intervention framework is laid out. The project may set up a system for the inclusion of organizations and communities as key elements in building or restoring local water resilience.

Kahin Vasi – Fellow