In an alarming repeat of what happened in 2004 and several years before that, the water supply in the city is vast depleting. Thanks to a poor monsoon last year, an exploding population and scant regard to water bodies in the city, Chennai is facing the prospect of a parched summer and even a few months after that, at least till the next monsoon. And hopefully that should be a bountiful one. What is ironic is that Government is not following up on its own excellent scheme – rainwater harvesting.
The combined storage level at the four reservoirs of the city – Chembarambakkam, Cholavaram, Poondi and Red Hills – now stands at 3.4 tmc ft, roughly half of what it was at the same time last year. With Chennai needing 1 tmc ft of water each month, this is expected to last till July end. What after that?
The authorities are, as usual, trotting out a list of alternatives – Krishna water, Veeranam supply, and tankers that draw water from mofussil areas. None of these is going to be easy. The first, plagued as it has been with maintenance issues from the start, was recently closed for further repairs. Further, Andhra has not had a good monsoon either and, so, copious supplies, if they were ever that, cannot be hoped for. The Veeranam tank which supplies water to Chennai, especially to industries, dipped to 3 per cent of its total storage capacity as early as February this year. That necessitated reduction in Metrowater’s daily supplies to the city, especially to commercial consumers. The situation has since improved but officials termed the situation as precarious when it came to continued supplies from this tank.
That leaves the wells in the mofussil. These were dug in 2003/4 at Neyveli, Poondi, Tamaraipakkam and Minjur and supply 40 million litres to the city. These have, at best, a marginal influence on the water situation. Private tankers have been drawing water from wells in the suburbs and effecting supplies to the city. But residents in those areas have long since woken up to the dangers of over-exploitation of groundwater. In several localities, neighbourhood vigilance squads have been formed to prevent water tankers from accessing wells. However, the same awareness has not come about in the matter of deep borewells. Most housing developments are merrily indulging in this with scant regard for the future.
Which brings us to the question of rainwater harvesting. Why is the Government remaining silent on this? In 2004, it was this same regime in power that made a determined and highly commendable effort to get rainwater harvesting implemented in every building. The Chief Minister appealed to citizens through the electronic media and it paid rich dividends. The Kapaleeswarar Temple tank filled up in the monsoons that followed and groundwater was recharged in most localities in Chennai.
However, that practice has now fallen into disuse. Most buildings are not ensuring that soak pits and drain chutes are kept clear to divert rainwater to underground sumps. It is doubtful whether buildings that were constructed after 2007 have even implemented rainwater harvesting. Certainly, the CMDA and Corporation authorities are not attending to this with the diligence that it requires. Public structures, such as flyovers and bridges, certainly do not have any such scheme in place as is evident from the way run-offs simply stagnate at either end.
Given the way the city is expanding, conserving rainwater appears to be the only long- term solution. And considering that we were lucky to have nine bountiful monsoons since the last drought, we ought to have managed better. So can we please get back to basics and implement what was a very successful scheme and which is required even more now than when it was first thought of in 2004