A two-litre water bottle was my prized possession during a vacation spent on a hilltop. Panic gripped me when I found that drinking water was not provided to guests as the area suffered from severe water shortage. The nearest shop was several kilometres away. Every ounce of water mattered the most then.

We tend to realise the value of a readily available resource only when it becomes scarce. Drinking water assumes importance in summer and is on everyone’s ‘most wanted’ list. We consume almost double the amount of water regularly taken. A doctor friend told me that though it depends on the perspiration level of an individual, everyone must consume at least two to three litres of water daily.

From a time when groundwater from open wells was sufficient to meet most of our needs, we have moved to an era when potable water is a rarity. In a city that has grown used to packaged drinking water over the past decade, even a slight delay in refilling the supply upsets households when the mercury soars.

Depleting surface and groundwater resources are a cause of worry for both government agencies and residents. Every summer, Chennaiites look forward to release of water from Kandaleru reservoir in Andhra Pradesh. This time too, Krishna water is eagerly awaited to replenish the declining resources in the city reservoirs.

The government has chalked out plans to create additional space to store water or spend several crores to transport water from other places. But, it often proves to be an interim solution and does not address the real problem of declining water resources. The mismatch between the indiscriminate extraction of groundwater and the volume harnessed over the years has caused much damage. In summer months, the water table level dips to 6.5 metres across the city.

Rainwater harvesting that was made mandatory about a decade ago continues to be widely received. It is a requisite to obtain water and sewer connections in the city. Over 5.15 lakh water connections have been provided so far and 10,000 new ones get added every year. While most buildings have structures to harness rainwater, their maintenance remains questionable. Following poor monitoring by government agencies, due to manpower shortage, the RWH structures remain unchecked. However, there are a few success stories, which could be emulated, like that of a resident in Porur who collects rain water in a sump and uses it for the following months.

Deep borewells have replaced open wells in the city. Many people have sunk borewells beyond 100 feet, touching the deep aquifer that cannot be replenished easily. It is a resource that gets depleted quickly, but only 50 per cent of harnessed water can be sustained. Unless the area over which rainwater is harvested is increased, the loss of this resource over the decades will not be restored.

It is time government agencies exercise stringent control over groundwater extraction and ensure that rainwater is harnessed properly. The concept of grey water recycling needs to be encouraged as it would reduce the burden on freshwater resource by up to 40 per cent. This method helps to sustain water level at five metres below ground even during summer.

Water cannot be taken for granted anymore.