The problem of water scarcity has been looming over Chennai for the past three years as the rains, especially the north-east monsoon, have failed to replenish the water reservoirs. Moreover, the water crisis is at its worst this year. Experts have said that the current water resources will hardly last for a few more months and Chennai is most likely to experience a dry spell, more intense than the one that occurred in 2017. It has been predicted that 2019 will be a drought year with one of the worst droughts faced by the city in the past 140 years.
Rainfall is an important contributor to the water supply in Chennai. 55% rainfall deficit has caused important water resources in the city to dry up. According to the Madras Institute of Development Studies, there are 3600 water bodies in Tiruvallur, Chennai and Kanchipuram districts. The number increases to 4100 water bodies if the ones in Arakkonam are included. Despite the presence of numerous water bodies, rainfall shortage will lead to the drying up of several lakes in Sholavaram, Poondi, Chembarambakkam and Red Hills which are responsible for supplying drinking water to the city. These four lakes presently hold 10% of water storage capacity. Failure of rains will leave the Chennai public distraught.
The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) through tankers distributes about 4.3 crore litres of water. Private players distribute nearly 9 crore litres of water to gated communities, hotels and corporate hospitals. According to the Metro Water officials, the tankers make 6300 daily trips to distribute water around the city. The demand of water is highly inelastic and the alarming depletion of water has forced a supply cut. Official data states that Metro Water has reduced its drinking water supply by 100 million liters a day which affected water supply in T.Nagar, Mogappair, and Mylapore.
Apart from rainfall, groundwater has been a major source of water for the people of Chennai. Due to failure of rains and excessive draining of groundwater, the groundwater level has started to recede. The data available with the NGO Rain Centre states that the average level of water has plunged to approximately 7.6 meters below groundwater level in December 2018 when compared to the 5.7 meter water level in December 2017. The Rain Centre has been tracking or monitoring the groundwater level since 2015. According to their data, 70% of 88 wells in Chennai have gone dry. The receding groundwater level leads to the rise in salinity level or an increase in the rate of total dissolved solutes (TDS) in the water table.
Another reason for water crises is poor water management. When there is surplus water available, there is no planning done for the future needs. Also, the number of bore wells has increased drastically due to a hike in the demand of water for industries, agriculture and domestic use. This causes a huge strain on water level retained underground. The worsening situation of water shortage has an intense negative impact on the economy. Lives and income of millions are threatened, especially the lives of the poor. Furthermore, it is impeding the economic growth as millions of underprivileged city dwellers do not have access to water supply around their homes.
Due to the water crisis, the metro water authorities have started to work on an infrastructure to extract water from abandoned quarries in Sikkarayapuram, a place near Mangadu. There are plans made to draw water out of private agricultural wells in Minjur, Tamaraipakkam and Poondi. Grey water recycling and water treatment plants are to play a crucial role in sustaining water supply in the future. The Tragedy of Commons is a theory used to describe a situation when a community has to share a common resource system. It is the inherent nature of man to exploit a commodity available in abundance and not care about its future implications. This theory can be applied to the current water crises in Tamil Nadu. To prevent breakdown due to water scarcity the corporation authorities must develop effective plans to control the damage. Only 3% of the earth’s water is accessible for human use. Therefore conserving water has become the need of the hour along with tackling other aspects of climate change.
Picture Courtesy- Deccan Chronicle