For two months now, Raj Sathiyan has been depending on a bore-well that his father built in 1995, for his primary source of water. Sathiyan and his brother, their wives and three children live with their aged mother, in a duplex, in Chennai’s upscale Anna Nagar East neighbourhood. A 9,000-litre sunken tank at their bungalow has remained dry in the last two months. The family has two options: buy corporation water, or fall back on their 100-foot bore-well.
“Initially we began using our bore-well as a back-up water source,” Sathiyan told CNBC-TV18, “But we soon discovered massive amounts of sediment in our groundwater. The water also began getting more saline as time passed.”
The incident was not surprising. Most homes in the vicinity, contending with near-stoppage of corporation water, have begun using their bore-wells at the same time. Usage of groundwater has become the new normal. This means that increased salinity and sedimentation is a byproduct of increased usage.
Reservoirs Run Dry
A look at water levels across Chennai’s four reservoirs can provide some perspective to what millions of homes in Chennai are contending with, every day. On June 11, 2019, the Cholavaram Reservoir had officially run dry, according to the Chennai Metro Water website. It had a capacity of 1,081million cubic feet (MCFT).
The city’s Red Hills Reservoir reported storage of 1 MCFT, in its 3,300 MCFT storage capacity. Chennai’s largest-ever reservoir, Chembarambakkam, had water levels at a similar 1 MCFT, with a total capacity of 3,645 MCFT. Almost exactly a year ago, Chembarambakkam’s water level was 1,108 MCFT.
Some relief has been provided by the Poondi reservoir whose 34 MCFT storage (capacity: 3,231 MCFT) is accounting for a lion’s share of the 36 MCFT that Chennai is left with, of a total capacity of 11,257 MCFT. Simple math tells you that Chennai’s reservoirs are just 0.32 percent full. That bleak statistic summarizes the magnitude of the situation.
Government Sets Up Monitoring Committee
After the Madras High Court pulled up the Tamil Nadu Government for not doing enough to fight off the water crisis, the state’s policymakers decided to set up a monitoring committee, which it hopes will keep a watch on the deteriorating water situation in the state.
“The issue is quite simple. Chennai’s daily demand for water in 950 million litres, while its supply is only 750 million litres,” said a Metro Water official, “This 650 MLD supply — ‘MLD’ refers to million litres per day — also includes 200 MLD supplied by private tankers.” So, in essence, the government is able to provide for just about 450 MLD through desalination plants and existing reservoirs.
On setting up of the monitoring committee, the state government also announced that this supply will be stepped up to 525 MLD and will be continued till the onset of the Monsoon in late October. “The Government has been providing water supply, but there are issues that need to be addressed,” said SP Velumani, Tamil Nadu’s minister for Municipal Administration and Rural Development.
Reacting to stray reports that IT firms had asked employees to work from home, Velumani said that it was a routine practice to work from home, and it wouldn't necessarily be put down to the water scarcity. “If some IT companies are facing water supply issues, we are ready to solve them,” he added. Earlier this year, 24 districts across Tamil Nadu, including Chennai, were tagged as drought-hit.