Q. Discuss the various reasons responsible for Chennai Water Crisis.
A. More than 20 lakh people in Chennai struggle for fresh water for at least two months every 2-3 years, with the situation worsening further due to a rapidly expanding urban population.
Supporting a population of about 50 lakh, this sixth largest city in India needs 80 crore litres of water daily, but can provide only 52.5 crore – that too is reducing at a drastic pace. Piped water has run dry in Chennai, the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, and 21 other Indian cities are also facing the specter of ―Day Zero,‖ when municipal water sources are unable to meet demand.
Poor water management has rendered Chennai one of the most water-stressed cities not only in India but in the world.
Water deficient city
Chennai has been a water deficient city. The household water supply in the city was 55 litres per capita per day (lpcpd), much less than the Ministry of Urban Development Benchmark of 135 lpcpd, according to the 2011 census. However, this did not limit urban and industrial expansion and real estate growth.
The rain-shadow city gets about 80-85% of its water in two months – October and November. Chennai being a coastal city, run-off rate is very high and it is almost impossible to build big dams to save the water for dry months ahead.
Lack of rainfall
The city’s annual average rainfall is around 1,400 mm, but it fluctuates a lot every year. Last year, it was only 835 mm. The northeast monsoon has been deficient by nearly 50 per cent. Chennai’s water resources are mostly dependent on rainfall.
The four major city reservoirs – Poondi, Cholavaram, Puzhal and Malayambakkam – having a total capacity of 11.5 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft), have dropped to an all-time low. Sholayar, one of the largest reservoirs in Tamil Nadu, is completely dried up.
Loss of waterbodies
Chennai is today paying the price for its downright disrespect for water bodies and water sources. Chennai and its two neighbouring districts — Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur — together used to be called Yeri (lake) districts’. They had more than 6,000 lakes, ponds and reservoirs that minimised runoff loss of rainwater and kept replenishing the groundwater table throughout the year. At present, authorities say only 3,896 have survived and Chennai city alone has lost nearly 150 such water bodies. Further, whatever survived is nowhere near its actual size.
Three rivers – the Cooum, the Adyar, and the Kosasthalaiyar – flow through Chennai into the Bay of Bengal. The Buckingham canal connects the three rivers. Cooum was killed by filth and untreated sewer being let into it for decades. Buckingham Canal and Adyar too are no better. Today, they are glorified gutters as their feeder lines and banks have been ceded to encroachers small and big.
Expansion without proper planning
Chennai’s municipal corporation boundary was expanded from 175 to 426 square kilometre in 2011 to include the fast urbanising peri-urban areas and the Chennai Metropolitan Area is now being considered for expansion from 1,189 to more than 8,878 sq km. The expansion lacked adequate measures for the conservation and management of water resources. The haste to concretise urban space has shrunk green areas and reduced options of aquifer recharge.
According to the audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, 2017, the built-up area in the Chennai metropolitan area has grown from 90.88 sq. km. in 1979, to 541.14 sq. km. in 2016. On the other hand, the water spread area of lakes and ponds has shrunk from 100.98 sq. km to 91.31 sq. km. in the past 40 years.
Contamination of Water Bodies
80 per cent of Chennai’s surface water is polluted. Recycled wastewater can be a source, but about 70 per cent of the wastewater goes down untreated to rivers and other water bodies, resulting in contamination of those and loss of resource too.
If the situation continues and the next year the state faces a drought, we might reach a situation where there is no water at all. So the above reasons have to be rectified.
Five-point solution for Chennai’s water crisis –
1) Efficient implementation of rainwater harvesting.
2) Wastewater re-use.
3) Protection of flood plains, lakes and wetlands.
4) Open data for researchers and scholars to provide detailed effective interventions.
5) Improve efficiency in use domestic, industrial and irrigation requirements upstream.
The government should also take a policy decision to not to approve any more industries or business enterprises in the city. Concentrating industrial development in the city has made living in it a disaster.
An Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) blueprint shoul be done which includes rain audit, sustainable ground and surface water abstraction, wastewater treatment, water distribution efficiency, storm water systems, rainwater harvesting and aquifer conservation. It should also include reservoir optimization, desilting of waterrways, community-based initiatives and technology-driven solutions.
Also we can learn from Israel, which is a dry land and much of it is a desert. A company or a person or a farmer does not have the right to the groundwater under his or her land. Which means that for every
person, water is a limited resource with a price. This encourages management, which, in turn, begets innovation.
The United Nations General Assembly on July 28, 2010, recognised that the human right to water entitles everyone to ―sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.‖ This right has not been explicitly protected in the Constitution of India, though the courts have interpreted the right to life to include safe and sufficient water.
The water crisis is not limited to Tamil Nadu alone. Other Indian cities are also facing the brunt. In June 2018, the NITI Aayog had warned that 60 crore people, about half the country’s population, face acute water shortage, and nearly 20 lakh people die each year because of polluted water. The report also alerts that 21 major cities, including Delhi, will run out of groundwater by 2020, thus affecting 10 crore people. Hence we need to act fast.
Today, however, governments leave it to individuals to solve the water crisis, which has led to fragmented solutions and made water available only to those who can afford it.
We must understand that water crisis is not just about water but that it is a socio-economic, political and environmental issue.