Strengthening the operation & maintenance sector for servicing decentralised urban sanitation infrastructure in Karnataka, India
26 July 2018

Collaboration is everything: high-altitude faecal sludge management (FSM) in Leh, India

A High-Altitude Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP)

Leh, a high-altitude cold desert at 12,000 feet in the Jammu & Kashmir district of Ladakh, India, has become a popular tourist destination with 250,000 visitors annually. The city is building a sewerage system that in the near future will connect about 40% of the city; today households, hotels and guesthouses use septic tanks and soak pits for on-site containment of sewage. As most of the septic tanks are poorly designed and the underground water table is high (only 30 feet in some places), the risk of water contamination is very high. Borewells are extensively used for drinking water, therefore water pollution can have serious health and economic consequences. The Municipal Committee of Leh (MCL) has ordered that septic tanks are to be made watertight and mandatorily desludged every year. The town needs a faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP) to safely treat and reuse the sludge.

Innovative Public-Private Partnership

The FSTP must handle both the challenges of high altitude and extreme climatic conditions, as well as highly variable sludge inflow since activities will be minimal in the winter. This plant is designed by BORDA and CDD Society and executed by MCL and Blue Water Company, a sanitation service company that will provide end-to-end faecal sludge management services, making Leh the first ODF++ (open defecation free) city in India. The collaborative efforts of the National Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (NFSSM) Alliance, urban local bodies, and Blue Water Company were instrumental in setting up the FSTP in Leh.

The first FSTP in Leh, which is also India’s first public-private partnership in faecal sludge management, was inaugurated on August 10, 2017. The FSTP was designed and built in a record 44 days as a result of close cooperation between the municipality, BORDA, CDD Society and Blue Water Company.

The extreme cold climate of Leh in winter is a major challenge; the FSTP will be run with lower capacity in winter to avoid breakdown of the FSTP itself.

Policy Support for Desludging

BORDA estimates that by next year, a very good cycle of scheduled cleaning will be in place. The municipal committee of Leh has directed every hotel to get its septic tank cleaned out once a year, for which notices will be sent 20 days before the scheduled cleaning. Due to the high water table, it has been mandatory for hotels to get their septic tanks cleaned out once a year; failing to do this would lead to their hotel permits not being renewed. The current capacity of the FSTP is to treat 12,000 litres of faecal sludge per day.

Next Steps

BORDA is working with local partners in Leh and Kargil on city-wide FSM services.

FSTP Features

  • Planted drying bed technology used in India for the first time—robust and flexible for extreme conditions
  • No direct human contact with faecal sludge
  • Minimal odour during entire process and aesthetically designed to locate it near habitation
  • Gravity-based system, based on natural and biological treatment with no use of chemicals or electricity—a green and eco-friendly system
  • Minimal and simple operations with no skilled operator required, minimising operations & maintenance (O&M) costs
  • Greening of Leh: A nursery will be set up and operated using the treated wastewater and sludge

FSTP Specifications

Total area: ~ 60 m2/m3
Population served: ~30,000 people
Design capacity: 12 m3/day
Sludge loading rate: 100 kgTS/m2/Yr
Effluent quality: BOD < 30 mg/l

In the Himalayan district of Ladakh, the city of Leh has the world’s highest faecal sludge treatment plant (FSTP), designed at 12,000 ft and operated in a public-private partnership