After undergoing one of the worst water crisis in its history, Chennai bounced back to come up with milestone projects that could make the city water secure in the long run.
With the four major reservoirs that supply drinking water to Chennai going bone dry and deficit rains during 2018, the city's water supply was reduced 525 million litres a day (mld). It was one of the first Indian cities to run dry early this year.
As taps stopped flowing and water became a premier commodity, residents looked deeper into the ground and sunk borewells up to a depth of 600 feet. In June, the average groundwater table in the city declined by a staggering nine metres.
Private water suppliers ruled the roost as residents relied on tankers to bridge the shortfall in municipal supply. Chennai Metrowater had to hire more lorries to ferry water from agricultural wells in Tiruvallur district and abandoned quarries to meet the requirements.
After nearly 15 years, Chennai received nearly 10 mld of water through train from Jolarpet. Water was transmitted to Kilpauk water works from where it was distributed to parts of the city.
Chennai's water shortage hit international news in June as Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio, known for his environmental activism, posted about acute water shortage in social media. U.S. senator Bernie Sanders too highlighted the city’s drought in social media.
A good southwest monsoon rainfall across the State and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh brought inflow to Veeranam tank in Cuddalore district and Krishna water was subsequently released from Andhra Pradesh in September. These two sources and rains that brought to reservoirs helped Metrowater announce that “the city was officially out of water shortage” in November and increase water supply to 650 mld.
The year 2019 was also important in water calendar as the project to build the third desalination plant was launched in June.
A foundation stone for the third desalination plant with a capacity to treat 150 million litres of sea water a day at Nemmeli. It is expected to be ready in two years. The ball has been set rolling for the fourth desalination plant in Perur with a capacity to treat 400 mld. Work is set to start next year.
In a bid to decentralise water supply and tap new sources, Metrowater started drawing water from smaller lakes such as Retteri.
Another milestone project inaugurated this year was to encourage reuse of sewage for industrial use. Two tertiary treatment reverse osmosis plants in Koyambedu and Kodungaiyur with a capacity to treat 45 mld each of sewage were inaugurated. The plants would cater to industries in north Chennai and Sriperumbudur and Oragadam belt and help divert freshwater to domestic water supply. The capacity would be expanded to 60 mld each to meet future demand.
The year 2020 too would have a promising start with many projects lined up. The first among them would be indirect use of reclaimed water. Plants of 10 mld capacity each are being built at Nesapakkam and Perungudi where sewage would undergo tertiary treatment and it would be blended in Porur and Perungudi lakes before distribution. Metrowater has also sought World Bank funds to improve water supply infrastructure.