Dry days: a seven part series on water scarcity in South India

Daunting water challenges across industries

The water level has gone down drastically in Yellandu in the Bhadradri-Kothagudem district of Telangana. In peak summer, temperature in the coal town can go up to 50 °C .   | Photo Credit: G.N. Rao

Standing on the banks of the dry Cauvery river channel,  P. Elango, a textile processing unit owner in Komarapalayam, a textile town in Namakkal district, recalls how the units were asked to stop drawing water from the river, the only source  they depended on, over a decade ago.
Nearly 15 years after the textile processing units were issued that notice, the textile town is facing a grave situation this summer.
“We then received notice from the government asking us not to draw water for industrial use for a month. We are facing a similar situation now and the water cut may last longer this time,” said Mr. Elango of SSM Processing Mill.

With the State reeling under severe drought and people struggling to access drinking water, the scarcity is threatening to hit production in several water-intensive sectors too, including textile processing, construction and hydro-power generation. Tirupur, Erode, Namakkal, and Salem are hub for textile processing, with nearly 1,500 units. “Value addition to yarn or fabric starts with processing. If there is no water, the entire value addition chain will be affected,” said Suresh Manoharan, executive director of Best Colour Solutions.

The construction industry, which is already affected by sand shortage, is staring at a severe water crisis and yet another slowdown. Builders fear that 50% of construction activity may not meet deadline. “We need at least 30,000 litres of water daily for a project to build about 300 apartments. With the sinking groundwater table and waits that get longer for private tankers, we have to bear a cut of minimum 10% in profit,” says S. Ayyanathan, chairman, Builders Association of India, southern centre. However, some water-intensive sectors have adopted surprising solutions to reduce water stress.

While the electricity generation from the hydro-plants at Mettur has been stopped due to water shortage, the water-intensive thermal plants are self-sufficient, thanks to desalination plants. The power generation in the State is mainly dependent on thermal power stations in north Chennai, Mettur and Tuticorin, with Tangedco having a total capacity of 4,660 megawatts (MW).

Senior officials at Tangedco are confident that they will be able to tide over the crisis this summer. The two power plants at Mettur can be operated even if resources in the dam reach dead storage. Their prime concern is about the operation of the North Chennai Thermal Power Station that depends on desalinated water from Minjur. Chennai mainly banks on desalination plants for its drinking water needs.
The situation in Vellore district, known for its acute water scarcity, is not bad either, to the relief of leather industries concentrated in Ranipet, Ambur, Vaniyambadi, Melvisharam and Pernambut.

Daunting water challenges across industries

Despite using a water-intensive industry tanning process, the leather sector is nevertheless coping because of its adherence to zero liquid discharge (ZLD) systems, say industrialists. “All industries have established ZLD and are able to recover 70% of the waste water,” said S. Faiyaz Ahmed, honorary secretary, Ambur Tanners Association.  M. Rafeeque Ahmed, president of the All India Skin and Hide Tanners and Merchants Association also agrees but testifies to the sense of apprehension surrounding the soaring mercury levels. “We may have to deal with a severe water crisis. We are apprehensive of what the coming months might look like,” he said.


Andhra Pradesh - Dyeing units guzzling groundwater, residents mull moving out


Dyeing units, which have mushroomed in and around Nagari municipality in Chittoor district, are one of the key suppliers of coloured yarn to the textile industries of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat, yet their indiscriminate pumping of groundwater is taking a toll on water availability.
The 104 dyeing units in Nagari have high output borewells and in-well drilling of their own, several of them without civic permits. Following a ban on the dyeing business in some parts of TN, many families from northwestern parts migrated to Nagari, taking over closed dyeing units. 
For the washing and colouring of yarn material, each dyeing unit draws thousands of gallons of water, and almost all of it from the ground. Due to incessant tapping of groundwater for a decade, the town is now facing a severe drinking water crisis. Though this mandal remained safe from the impact of drought in recent years, rain failures in 2015 and 2016 had a lasting effect on Nagari.
Excessive water-pumping has now spread to a radius of 7 kms, covering Chintalapatteda, Kothapeta, Ekambara Kuppam, KVPR Peta and Satrawada. Water table dipped so much that the  residents are contemplating migrating to other parts of Chittoor district and neighbouring States.
Nagari Municipality is now getting 2 million litres per day (MLD), against the demand of 5 MLD, with groundwater drawn from semi-dry sources at Ramapuram and Satrawada. Soaring mercury levels are threatening this meagre supply too. An additional concern is that 75% of the borewells in the proximity of the dyeing units yield water of various hues, considered risky for human consumption. With no alternative, some households have been forced to use this coloured water. Given the demand-supply mismatch, canned water has thrived here.
On the possibility of opening an effluent treatment plant, Nagari Municipal Commissioner Ch. Venkateswarulu said that this would require clearances.

Telangana -  When power undercuts water supply


The coal-rich town of Yellandu is facing a severe drinking water shortage with the historic Yellandulapadu tank, the prime drinking water source here, fast drying up ahead of the harsh summer months.
Against a dismal water scenario, groundwater drawn from 21 incline mines dating back to the British period is providing succour to coal miners and their families, besides residents of the coal town. The treated mine water is augmenting water supply in Yellandu.
The more-than-a-century-old Singareni Collieries Company Limited owes its origin to Yellandu. Yet the coal town is grappling with scarce water sources, a poor water supply network, and a mismatch between demand and supply of water.
Against the current requirement of 4.5 million litres per day (MLD), about 2.97 MLD is being supplied to the town. The coal town needs 5.8 MLD to fully cater to the drinking water requirements of its population of around 40,000, sources said. 
The deficit in surface water availability is taking a toll on 
the drinking water supply, with several colonies in Yellandu 
in distress as peak summer approaches. 
Cashing in on the scarcity of drinking water, bottled mineral water plants are making a quick buck here.

Power factor
The 2600 MWs National Thermal Power Corporation unit at Ramagundam faced numerous problems in securing water for its own reservoir, Jyothi Sagar, to produce thermal power supplied to all of south India. 
Earlier, NTPC-Ramagundam received water from the Sri Rama Sagar Project (SRSP) through Kakatiya Canal, traversing through around 120 Km to reach Ramagundam. 
The supply of water from Kakatiya canal was always found to be deficient for three reasons: tapping of water by farmers en route for their crops, seepage, and lack of inflows into the SRSP.

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(Reporting by K. Lakshmi, R. Srikanth from Chennai,  M. Soundariya Preetha from Coimbatore ; Serena Josephine M. from Vellore; P Sridhar and K.M. Dayashankar from Khammam and Karim Nagar; K. Umashanker from Nagari )

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 10:50:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/daunting-water-challenges-across-industries/article18348778.ece

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