“To a thirsty man, a drop of water is worth more than a sack of gold.”
Washermen on the Vaigai buy water to fill up tubs that were once fed by borewells sunk on the riverbed. Farmers around Alanganallur buy water in tankers for irrigation. Residents of K.K. Nagar now book water cans in advance. People owning houses in Tahsildar Nagar are ready to relocate as the groundwater table has gone down abysmally low. Summer of 2017 is turning out to be the most cruellest in recent years for Madurai.
The family of M. Valarmathi of VOC Nagar in Melamadai spends a minimum of ₹1,000 per month on water. “We buy hard water at ₹3 per pot and drinking water at ₹10 a pot,” she says. On the flip side, they save on electricity as the motor pump was not operated since February with the bore well going dry. “People of old Madurai did not resist the takeover of waterbodies like Tallakulam and Villapuram tank for raising concrete structures. Today, they are paying a heavy price. This should not happen to the residents of the new areas annexed to Madurai Corporation. They should protect their water sources with a sense of ownership,” says S. Chandran, Associate Professor, Thiagarajar College of Engineering.
In the current scenario, where water has become scarce both at the surface and ground levels, M. Arunachalam, former Chief Engineer, PWD, suggests roof water harvesting as an ideal remedy. “Roof of a house is an akshaya pathram . Water harvested in the roof can be filtered and used for cooking and drinking. About 10,000 litres of water harvested in the roof will suffice for a family of four,” he says. He wants people to take over ownership of water sources and prevent plunder of river sand.
Increasing water use by an ever-growing population has resulted in huge stress on available resources, in the absence of any attempts to replenish them. For now, the district administration and Madurai Corporation have taken steps to maintain water supply to tide over the crisis. This summer has thrown a challenge at city planners to think long term as a similar scenario in the next five years will be unmanageable. “We need a road map on water management for Madurai Corporation. Any future plan should integrate all available sources and have milestone deliverables,” says Dr. Chandran.
The city recorded the lowest rainfall in the last 40 years in 2016. As per data recorded in rain gauge stations, Madurai had an annual rainfall of below 550 mm, against the average of 840 mm. With many of the old city’s 46 waterbodies giving place to government buildings or residential complexes, the groundwater table has also gone down.
The Global Water Partnership, an inter-governmental organisation, involving 167 countries, specifies certain critical steps for integrated urban water management (IUWM). It says that many governments have recognised the importance of taking an integrated approach to address challenges of cities with new objectives that recognise mutual benefits of water resources, energy and land use management. First and foremost in this approach is the “early and continuous integration of all stakeholders” in planning, decision-making, implementation and monitoring.
The IUWM looks at the entire water cycle – water sources, supply, waste water and storm water – as one system that should be contextualised within an urban water framework. It also insists that surface water, groundwater, rainwater, storm water, black water (sewage) and grey water (used water from kitchen and bathroom) as potential sources. It says, “Waste water should not be wasted water.”