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Water Management in Chennai

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Water is the most essential item for human life. If anything goes wrong with water, it is the main cause of health problem (endemic diseases) also. If the ground water level goes below at an alarming rate, the day may not be far away when the cracks would develop in the earth crust due to poor binding of soil and that might lead to earthquakes. Also, it would make the land not fit for agriculture. Especially if the ground water table goes below in places like Chennai, close to the seashore, it would help the seawater to creep into the ground water table. Over a period of 40-50 years, it may turn the land into a desert. These forecasts may sound unbelievable and exaggerated but these unpleasant predictions can not be summarily dismissed. Although, many points discussed in this article holds good for major cities in India, let us have a close look at the water problem faced by Chennai.

Alarming Signals

In 1960, the population of Chennai was 15 lakhs. In the last 4 decades, its population has tripled to 45-50 lakhs. A simple calculation would suggest that the water availability in Chennai should also have at least tripled to match the increasing need. With the increased number of buildings within the city and the ever-increasing growth of the city, the open land available for water retention has gone down drastically in the last 10-15 years. Also, the need for more water led to the receding of the water table. There were no systematic and conscious attempts to rejuvenate the water table. This has brought us today's condition where Chennai faces a severe water problem. It is an irony that we have landed ourselves into this situation in spite of regular rains in that past one decade.

Estimation of Water Consumption in Chennai

An individual would require about 8 buckets (15 litre capacity) of water every day for all his uses only (1 buckets for brushing the teeth and face washing, 2 buckets of water for toilet use, 2 buckets of water for bathing, and 3 buckets of water for washing cloths). Thus, a family of five would require about 40 buckets of water for their individual uses. Apart from this, a family would require 5-6 buckets of water for utensil cleaning, 2 buckets for floor cleaning, 2-3 buckets of water for drinking (about 8 litres of water per person per day). Thus, in total a family of five would require on a conservative estimate about 50 buckets of water (approx. 750 litres of water per day). Those who still treat water as a common commodity would end up using more water (more than 1000 litres per day for a family) and those who can not afford luxurious use of water may use around 500 litres per day for a family of five. For our analysis, let us consider 100 litres is the water requirement per person per day in Chennai. Thus, only about 20% water consumed in a family is for personal cleaning and toiletry usage. Remaining water is used for utensil, cloth and floor cleaning.

Poor Harvesting of Rain Water

Assuming 50 lakhs is the current population of Chennai and the water required per day is 50 crores i.e. half a billion litres per day. Thus, for a year, the water consumption in Chennai city alone works out to around 180 billion litres. An estimate suggests that 2400 sq.ft of land in Chennai receives about 3 lakh litres of rainwater per year. Thus, on an average 1200 billion litres of water falls on Chennai per year whereas the water requirement for Chennai per year is 180 billion litres (15% of overall rain fall in Chennai per year). In other words, if Chennai has to depend only on rainwater, it needs to find a way to save about one seventh of the total rain fall in a year. In spite of this, if we face water scarcity, the blame lies in poor harvesting of rainwater.

Measures on War-Footing

The government in Tamilnadu shows the semblance that it has gauged the seriousness of this issue. However, the measures taken on war footing can utmost be a temporary solution. As soon as this government took over in Tamilnadu, arrangements were made to bring water from Neyveli (63 lakh litres per day), Mettur (22 lakh litres per day) and Erode (about 10 lakh litres per day). Thus, a total of 90-95 lakh litres of water is brought to Chennai every day by rail and road, from about 200-400 kms of distance. We must notice a point here that the amount spent on transport of this much water would be highly prohibitive. Apart from this fact, one should also compare this quantity of water ( approx. 1 crore litre) as against the water requirement of Chennai per day (0.5 billion i.e. 50 crore litres). Thus, this measure can augment the water requirement only to the tune of 2% of total water needed for Chennai.
It should also be mentioned here that Tamilnadu government has requested the Andhra Pradesh government to supply water to Chennai to supplement its water needs. It is also widening the canals to receive water from Andhra Pradesh (from Kandalur) and also tries to build small dams across these canals to minimize water loss. Water filling stations are located near these small dams. While the government is taking all efforts to overcome the water scarcity of Chennai during this summer, it is also taking some serious steps to arrive at a permanent solution. While we appreciate the concern and efforts taken by the Tamilnadu government, it should also look into some of the suggestions made here to cope up with the water requirement of Chennai. At the same time people should also adhere to some of the disciplines in water consumption. Water is proving to be costly now and a day may come when water would become costlier than milk. Let us avoid that situation by following some of the constructive suggestions made in this article. Before we discuss about the approaches that one can implement at an individual small level, let us have a look at what the TN government is trying to do.

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