Even before the government think tank Niti Aayog’s survey raised the alarm bells on 21 Indian cities running dry by 2020, New Delhi had started feeling the heat, with taps running dry.
It’s a fact that that the National Capital Region (NCR) is fast running out of drinking water.
The crisis is unprecedented and the population explosion in the last two decades have led to mindless extraction of ground water.
The supply of drinking water from rivers is also limited and the NCR urgently needs to recharge its ground water and urban water bodies.
According to Jyoti Sharma, founder of FORCE, an NGO that works on water conservation, said, “The crisis in NCR is largely man-made.”
Sharma lists three reasons for Delhi’s water woes, “The first is ‘mismanagement of water’, second, internal water resources are not being ‘harnessed properly’ and third, is capital’s ‘failure to use recycled water’.”
Today, the capital is dependent on Yamuna river and upper Ganges canal for 86 percent of its water needs and remaining is extracted from the underground.
As the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) struggles to provide safe drinking water to 25 million Delhiites, illegal bore wells and tanker mafia are sucking capital dry.
The Central Ground Water Board recently informed the Supreme Court that groundwater level depletion has accelerated from 0.5 metre a year to more than two metre a year and “could lead to a crisis if not halted”.
Sharma believes that the shift will come when Delhiites change how the city plans for water and it needs to plan for “self-sufficiency rather than demand” and “there needs to be a push for rain water harvesting in cheapest possible way, where each and every water body can be used as a reservoir of water”.
The tiny window of hope for Delhi comes from some of its remarkable citizen initiatives like The Vasant Vihar Resident Welfare Association in south Delhi.
There are 33 community water-harvesting projects in Vasant Vihar’s parks and most houses in colony harvest rain water.
The area also boasts of three sewage treatment plants, which treats over five million litres of waste water a year.
This recycled water is then supplied to the residents for use in kitchen, gardens and utilities.
In addition, Vasant Vihar has ensured no water tanker enters the colony, even in the peak of summer, unlike most of Delhi’s urban sprawls.
Suresh Goyal, president of Vasant Vihar’s Resident Welfare Association said, “The work started 20 years ago and now we have 33 rain water projects working smoothly, where rain water runs from the roads into pits successfully.”
However, Vasant Vihar residents feel that irrational policy roadblocks are hampering their efforts.
The Delhi Water and Sewer (Tariff and Metering) Regulations of 2012, makes it mandatory for all buildings with plots sizes above 500 square metre to set up rainwater harvesting systems.
While most of the 1,300 odd houses in Vasant Vihar have installed pits as per the current policy, a fraction are not able to do it.
Built in the 1970s, these houses are structurally unfit to hold rainwater-harvesting pits and are now paying a penalty of 50 percent on their water bills.
Goyal believes that instead of asking these old buildings, where rainwater harvesting is not possible due to structural problems, the government should allow this initiative at the community level.
In fact, the Vasant Vihar RWA has plans to dig 20 more community rainwater harvesting pits in its parks.
A study by FORCE has found that for the capital to be self-sufficient, it needs 1,350 billion litres of water annually.
It gets about 907 billion litres in rainfall out of which 40 percent or 364 billion litres of run-off rainwater is usable.
Delhi's share of Yamuna water is at 724 billion litres annually and an additional 200 billion litres when the river floods.
Another 700 billion litres comes from treated wastewater.
However, the capital can easily save 282 billion litres in its kitchens.It’s simple math, which tells you that if the government and citizens resolve to be smart about conserving water, Delhi may not become the next Cape Town.