Residents of areas once rich in groundwater are forced to buy water

With each passing day, Ambattur resident S. Raghuraman’s concern about the declining groundwater level in his house mounts. He is one among the residents in the city’s added areas and fringes who are turning to private water tankers to meet their daily requirements.

Many areas surrounding the city, which were once rich in groundwater resources, are now staring at water scarcity. “For the past month, I have been operating the motor for nearly two hours every day to fill half my overhead tank. We get water through street taps only twice a week for an hour, and hand pumps are not functioning,” said Mr. Raghuraman, a resident of Murugappa Reddy Street.

Building an underground sump to store water was an unheard of practice in the suburbs. Now, many residents in Ambattur are getting nearly four feet-high barrels filled with water for Rs. 100. In places like Sharma Nagar, Vyasarpadi, people buy a pot of water for Rs. 5 - Rs. 7. “We get piped water supply on alternate days. We use water supplied in lorries for other purposes,” said G. Giriraj, a resident.

The problem of depleting groundwater levels plagues private water tanker operators as well as they have been forced to travel long distances to source water. N. Nijalingam, president, South Chennai Private Water Tankers Operators Association, said: “We travel an additional 10-15 km from Medavakkam and Kovilambakkam to areas including Ponmar and Mambakkam for water. We had to go on a two-day strike this week to get permission to draw water in areas around Thalambur. The more we travel, the fewer number of trips we can operate.”

A 12-kilolitre load of water per tanker costs anywhere between Rs.1,200 to Rs.1,800 depending on the distance. Of late, customers, mostly commercial establishments, prefer 20-kl tanker-loads that cost Rs.1,600-Rs.2,500.

P.S. Sundaram, president, Chennai Private Water Tankers Operators Association, said water is also sourced from Red Hills, Thirumazhisai and Tiruverkadu.

The clients are commercial establishments, IT companies and hospitals. Residents of apartment complexes form about 25 per cent of customers. The demand has not yet gone up in the city. Each lorry operates 4-5 trips daily.

Over 1,100 lorries are operated in and around Chennai.

“We expect the demand to go up by 20 per cent from next month. We may have to revise the prices depending on the distance we travel to source water,” said Mr. Bharathi.