Fecal Coliform in the Yamuna

One of the biggest rivers to flow through the world’s largest river basin, the Yamuna river is the pride of our country. Also referred to as the “Jumna” river, it is of immense economic significance in India. It drains really fertile soil that supplements agricultural growth, irrigation and thus helps support the livelihood of thousands of farmers. Approximately 57 million people rely on the Yamuna’s waters for their daily nutrition, and the Yamuna provides roughly 70% of Delhi’s drinkable water supply. The Maha Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years at the Triveni Sangam in Allahabad, with about 120 million Hindu pilgrims taking a sacred bath at the most venerated Sangam.

In July 2021, a report produced by the Delhi government revealed that levels of fecal coliform (microbes from human and animal excreta) is above the desirable level at almost all points of the Yamuna. The report further identified the reason behind the increased levels of pollution is the “absence of a minimal environmental flow” of the water, hence posing an impediment to even achieving bathing quality standards of the river. An environmental flow is water provided within a river, wetland, or coastal zone to preserve ecosystems and their benefits where there are competing water uses and flows are restricted, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The high levels of fecal coliform in the river may cause a large number of skin infections and water-borne diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid, jaundice, etc. It also results in an increase in the organic matter level of the river. The decay of this organic material can easily deplete the amount of dissolved oxygen, which threatens the aquatic life that resides in the river.

The level of fecal coliform in the Yamuna was as high as 1,40,000 MPN/100 ml — 280 times the desired level (500 MPN/100 ml or lesser) — at Okhla Barrage, a point along the river in Delhi, as per the report. There exist a plethora of reasons behind the rapid escalation in the pollution of the river, but certain pertinent ones include untreated waste and sewage discharge, unchecked dumping of farm wastes and faulty or inefficient septic systems.

More expeditious steps need to be implemented in order to restore the river’s beauty. Let’s work together to ensure that our actions, big or small, contribute towards our country’s environment!

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