Not only have the monsoon rains been a near total failure in catchment areas, but also, the groundwater level has fallen way below comfort levels in many neighbourhoods.
During his short tenure as Chief Minister this year, O Panneerselvam had declared the state as drought-hit on January 10. The failure of north-east monsoon in 2016 has been classified as the worst in 140 years. Drought is not a new phenomenon in Tamil Nadu. In recent memory, Chennaiites experienced severe drought during the 1980s. The worst drought years were 1980, 1982, 1983, 1987 and 1989. In those years, the state government, apart from applying for relief from Centre, also came up with many initiatives, including fish farming, ecological farming and commercially useful plantations. The forest department used to arrange for water for wildlife; authorities used to construct open and bore wells wherever there was water. The spirit of Chennai, as we call volunteerism now, used to be present in those days as well, with individuals taking the initiative in water conservation.
This year too, the time has come to show solidarity and practice prudence. When people do not have water for personal use, those who have huge lawns can sacrifice them for the next two months. Lawns consume huge quantum of water for maintenance, and they can be allowed to go dry for the next couple of months. When the rains come, they will revive, lawns are resilient that way. Or one should invest in a state-of-the-art sprinkler system. They are expensive, but consumption of water is minimal.
However, we need our trees and shrubs, especially in our public spaces. We need to be both prudent and scientific in our watering methods. We need to opt for a deep- watering system. Bury PVC pipes or earthen pots with holes in them around the periphery of a tree, shrub’s root area. Water will percolate slowly and reach the roots and keep the tree or shrub alive. Most people tend to fix a hose to a tap and allow water to flow over the ground all around a plant or tree, which is an incorrect method. Since the surface soil is hot, it will absorb fast and evaporation is another factor. We can save most trees in summer if we water them by addressing the root.
Most residents have a couple of mango, lemon and jackfruit trees. Large trees can withstand one or two months of heat. It is sufficient if their roots are watered once or twice a week.
Summer is also the time to opt for window- sill garden. You can plant pudina, coriander, all varieties of greens. For aesthetics, table roses are also good, for summer. They need only a sprinkling of water by hand. In general, Chennai region is not entirely bone dry. Therefore watering the garden twice a week should suffice.
— The writer is HOD, Depart ment of Botany, MCC