Mitigating river water pollution through wastewater treatment

G. Mathi Vathanan, Durgesh Nandini Sahoo and Elisa Patnaik Housing & Urban Development Department (H&UDD), State of Odisha, India

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With growing urbanization, sewage and septage have emerged as one of the biggest pollutants of water bodies in the urban areas of the State of Odisha in India. Absence of sewer networks in large parts of the State, lack of treatment facilities, open defecation and lack of regulatory mechanisms were among the major challenges contributing to the water contamination of the river systems. The Housing & Urban Development Department (H&UDD), Government of Odisha implemented a holistic, decentralized, inclusive and community-led wastewater management model combining a sewage system for large cities (>200,000 population) and Faecal Sludge & Septage Management (FSSM) for small and medium towns (<200,000 population) that helped in considerably reducing the water pollution caused disposal of faecal sludge and septage. The State created and operationalized 13 Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) in six bigger cities and 112 Faecal Sludge Treatment Plants (FSTPs) across all the 115 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). This along with adoption of appropriate (low-cost) technology and engagement of local community groups in the management of FSTPs as well as establishment of regulatory mechanisms together helped in containing the discharge of untreated human waste, thus reducing the degree of water pollution in the major river systems of the State. Institutional strengthening, capacity building, awareness generation and regular monitoring have also contributed to the wastewater management programme, positively impacting environment outcomes.

Consequently, water quality in 17 out of the total of 19 polluted rivers stretches have considerably improved and moved from the polluted to non-polluted category. This impressive reduction in the number of polluted rivers stretches within a span of five years is attributable to the above pollution abatement measures undertaken during the period 2017–2022. The Odisha state model has now emerged as a replicable, scalable and inclusive sanitation model which could be adopted by the low and middle-income countries and cities.

Geographic information


Odisha, India

City and population:



  • Water pollution in large number of stretches of rivers in Odisha due to sewage and septage contamination.
  • Challenges of adopting underground sewerage system in a state like Odisha with predominantly medium and small towns.
  • Absence of treatment facilities for faecal waste emptied from the large number of toilet septic tanks.
  • Open defecation owing to lack of access to toilets.
  • Absence of regulatory mechanisms for private desludgers.
  • Poor awareness about the health and environment impact of indiscriminate and open discharge of sewage and septage.


  • Adoption of a combination of sewerage network and decentralized, community led FSSM.
  • Establishing and strengthening interventions across FSSM value chain – from enhancing toilet access and mechanized desludging to scientific treatment.
  • Creation and operationalization of 13 STPs and 112 FSTPs adopting low-cost, appropriate technology and O&M through community partners.
  • Creation of model FSSM Regulations and their enforcement.
  • Strengthening institutions and building capacities for sustainable FSSM.
  • Regular awareness creation and institutional monitoring of FSSM.