Chennai water situation not as dire as made out to be

Former Metrowater chief counters Niti Aayog’s doomsday scenario for 2020

Updated - June 30, 2018 07:51 am IST

Published - June 30, 2018 01:14 am IST - CHENNAI

Str ongly disagreeing with Niti Aayog’s recent statement that Chennai would be among 21 cities in the country that would run out of groundwater by 2020, Santha Sheela Nair, a former civil servant, says that the situation is not as alarming as it is made out to be, if one is to go by the groundwater numbers of the city for the past 15 years.

Ms Nair, who handled the subject of water supply in various capacities for many years, points out that even 15 years ago, Chennai set an example for the rest of the country by taking to the idea of rainwater harvesting (RWH) in a big way.

“In 2003, when the city was in the midst of a huge water crisis, the average water level below the ground was around 5.6 metres. But, that was also the year people of the city started implementing RWH, going the whole hog. In three years, the level improved to 3.17 metres,” explains Ms. Nair, who promoted RWH during her stint as Chairman and Managing Director of Chennai Metrowater, and as Secretary in the Municipal Administration & Water Supply Department in the State government.

She emphasises that political will demonstrated by former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in supporting the concept 15 years ago made the RWH programme a “complete success.”

Despite the 2016 northeast monsoon (October-December) being scanty, the previous year’s level (4.3 metres) did not go down to the 2003 level. “This is precisely because of RWH,” Ms. Nair asserts, adding that the quality of groundwater hs also improved.

No room for complacency

However, the Niti Aayog’s statement should be taken as a “wake-up call” as one cannot remain complacent, she says.

“It is time for all of us – the government, Metrowater and citizens of the city – to continue our efforts in water conservation with the kind of fervour we did then. If we pay sustained attention, the groundwater level can even rise up to one metre, as we are getting enough rain.”

To ensure that Chennai does not suffer as it did in the past, a two-pronged strategy needs to be adopted, she says.

One, the concept of reuse and recycling of wastewater should be popularised in a big way. Two, with the limits of the city getting expanded, the authorities should adopt a decentralised method of meeting the drinking water supply requirements of people, apart from redoubling measures for preserving lakes and water bodies, meant for public water supply.

On reuse and recycling of wastewater, Ms. Nair says 80% of wastewater can easily be reused and recycled even at home. She makes it clear that she is suggesting only the reuse and recycling of sullage or grey water and not sewage or black water.

On decentralisation of water supply, local sources in extended areas of the city should be used to supplement and complement the city’s water supply system. People in these areas, which have been brought under the control of Chennai Metrowater, should not entertain the thought that they too will get water from high-cost desalination plants or other such sources, she says, recommending that all the water bodies meant for public water supply be declared water sanctuaries and maintained on the lines of reserve forests.

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