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Is drought reason for Chennai’s drinking water crisis?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-06-2017 Dharani Thangavelu

Chennai: The reservoirs that supply water to Chennai have gone dry and as the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) struggles to meet the demands of the city’s population, things don’t look promising for this rain shadow region which largely depends on the northeast monsoon (October-November).

As on Tuesday, the combined storage of the four reservoirs— Red Hills, Chembarambakkam, Sholavaram and Poondi— that provide drinking water to the city, was at 106 million cubic feet, which is 0.95% of the total capacity of 11,057 million cubic feet, as compared to 40%, last year.

Arun Krishnamurthy, founder of Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI) said Chennai with a population of over 1.32 crore is yet to fully bear the brunt of this crisis. “We are just in the beginning of a dry season and the condition looks appalling,” he said.

In January, Tamil Nadu declared all the 32 districts in the state to be drought-hit after witnessing the worst drought in 140 years last year.

The lakes that overflowed in December 2015, after Chennai received its heaviest rainfall in a century, are now completely dry, raising questions about the management of the 3,600 water bodies in the Chennai urban agglomeration, which includes Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts.

Although drought has had a huge impact, is this the only reason for Chennai’s drinking water crisis?

“If we are in the middle of a drought just 18 months after a massive rainfall, it clearly shows how poorly we are managing our water,” Krishnamurthy said, adding that the people and the government had failed to respect and understand water.

Last month, chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami announced that the state government had allotted Rs100 crore for maintenance works of waterbodies under the Kudimaramath Scheme, which involves the local population in water bodies’ restoration. Palaniswami also said an additional Rs300 crore would be allotted this year in order to desilt more waterbodies and enhance storage capacities.

Leader of the opposition and the working president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) M.K. Stalin recently criticized the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) for being “callous” towards addressing the drinking water crisis. The DMK has launched programmes for desilting of water bodies across the state.

“The government has forgotten to do its job. So we have chipped in,” Stalin said recently.

As far as Chennai is concerned, the CMWSSB had recently spent Rs13.63 crore to take rainwater stored in 22 abandoned quarries across the city, which have already started to supply 30 million litres per day (mld) for 100 days.

According to an official at the CMWSSB, Chennai’s water requirement is around 830 mld and around 470 mld is distributed at present from different sources.

In fact, the demand would be more than 1,000 mld, according to experts, for a fast expanding city like Chennai. There is a huge gap between the demand and supply, and it is increasing at an alarming rate for the burgeoning population.

“Even during a good year the CMWSSB is able to provide only around 40% of the total demand. The rest comes from ground water or through tankers from outside the city,” said S. Jankarajan, president of the South Asian Consortium for Inter-disciplinary Water Resources Studies.

Adding that the best solution for a sustainable water supply would be the storage of water in tanks, upstream of the city, Janakarajan said, “The 3,600 tanks upstream around Chennai, which can easily hold 80-90 tmc ft of water should be revitalized and interlinked. This will aid in storing the water during monsoon.”

He added: “As the rivers are being killed, the small water bodies are the mainstay for Tamil Nadu and are important sources for ground water recharge. But, unfortunately all the tanks are in a very bad shape.”

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