Editorial: Water, water, everywhere
Having observed World Water Day earlier this week, it might be pertinent to take a deep dive into the state of water sufficiency in Chennai – a city that has faced the wrath of droughts many times.
India has about four per cent of the world’s water resources. But we had become water-stressed more than a decade ago in 2011. About 600 million people here fall under the water-deprived category according to the Composite Water Management Index report submitted by NITI Aayog in 2018. Among the cities that have exhausted a significant quantum of their groundwater resources are Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and New Delhi.
While groundwater makes up 99% of all liquid freshwater, rampant industrialisation and urbanisation have been depleting it globally. The groundwater table in India has dipped by about 60% on average between 2007 and 2017. Similarly, a decline in rainfall in the winter cropping season was also seen – from 150 mm in 1970 to 100 mm in 2015. Days without rainfall have also increased from 40% to 45% in 2015.
Water scarcity is pronounced during summers in Chennai. One might recall how we became one of the first cities globally to run out of water in 2019, after which 10 million litres of water were brought into the city every day via tanker lorries and trains to help mitigate the impact of Day Zero. Last June, most parts of city also recorded a dip in groundwater level. A team from Anna University had also forecast that 60% of the groundwater in Chennai could be degraded by 2030.
Even last week, residents of Kannagi Nagar had complained about the reduced supply of water due to ongoing maintenance of the Nemmeli desalination plant, which is their source of water. The residents who were usually provided with 65 lakh litres per day, for 3-4 hours, now contend with 25 lakh litres per day supplied just for an hour. The quality of the water was also allegedly abysmal as it was mixed with sewage water.
Last month, residents in Thoraipakkam, which along with nearby areas in the Sholinganallur were appended to Greater Chennai Corporation, had expressed their angst on the absence of Metro Water connectivity to many neighbourhoods. The groundwater quality is below par, owing to the proximity of the region to the dumping ground that has damaged the water table significantly.
As far as mitigation efforts are concerned, the Union Budget allocated Rs 2,87,000 crore for the Ministry of Jal Shakti. This was to help launch the Jal Jeevan Mission (Urban) that would guarantee universal water supply to 4,378 towns. The Centre is also keen on providing safe tap drinking water to every rural household by 2024.
The good news is that there is a central authority to monitor and manage groundwater resources in India. The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has a network of 22,339 groundwater observation wells in India, essentially one monitoring point catering to about 147 square kilometres. Improving groundwater augmentation will require strengthening of groundwater regulations as well as strict implementation on the ground. Monitoring networks need to be beefed up and levels, as well as the quality of the groundwater need to be tracked constantly. We also need stringent rainwater harvesting protocols which will ensure that the water tables are well fed.