CHENNAI: When cyclone Fani picked up momentum in the Bay of Bengal, the city hoped for abundant rains to fill up our lakes and reservoirs. But, the rains betrayed yet again when Fani moved upwards to Odisha. With no respite and the water bodies almost dry, the clock is ticking. Beginning this month, every Chennaiite will be able to use only 61 litres of water per day for all purposes, on an average.
While the WHO standards mandate that every person living in cities should get 135 litres per capita per day (lpcd), Chennai residents get supplied only half of this even in normal conditions. The situation is grave. Water in all four reservoirs can be drawn only till the end of May. While on an average every resident received a supply of 80-90 lpcd earlier, under severe drought conditions one can only consume 60-65 lpcd now.
Metro Water officials said that they are supplying 550 MLD of water, but experts ascertained that after the loss of water during transmission, only 400-450 MLD is reaching the residents now. The city is being supplied with less than half its original requirement of 1,200 MLD.
Even officials, who are worried about sailing safely through this drought period, said other sources like agricultural fields and quarries have been identified to continue supply till October. Metro Water plans to draw 10 MLD of water from Eramiyur quarries starting from the end of June. Officials said after pumping machinery and pipelines are set up, water from this quarry can be drawn for 60 days. Water pumped from peri-urban areas is supplied to the city in 8,000 tankers of 12,000 litres capacity by Metro Water every day.
“From March 15 we have been drawing 30 MLD from Sikkarayapuram quarries. Till the beginning of June, we can draw water from this location. From the second week of May, we will begin to draw 15 MLD from 200-250 agricultural fields which will last for another month,” said a senior Metro Water official.
Cauvery water from Veeranam tank is the only steady source from which Chennai is getting 180 MLD of water every day. An extra 500 Mcft of water was transferred to Veeranam Tank from Mettur Dam in April to augment the city’s drinking water needs. Hence, Veeranam has almost reached its full capacity and has stored 1.2 Tmcft of water as of Wednesday.
“Every month for the next five months we will supply 210 Mcft of water from Veeranam. But this supply will only cater to a portion of the population. Also, we are already pumping water from Redhills and Poondi reservoirs which have reached its dead storage capacity. This will last for the next 15-20 days only,” said an official from the Water Resource Department of PWD.
Officials confirmed that there is no hope for the city to receive Krishna water from Andhra Pradesh as reservoirs there are running dry as well.
“Though we call this a drought year, Chennai has received 800 mm of rainfall. Instead of making way to save this water, Metro Water is killing the city’s groundwater sources. They have been extremely irresponsible in extracting groundwater, and aquifers in these areas have turned saline. Gummidipoondi, Minjur, Pallikaranai, Palavakkam are a few such locations,” said S Janakarajan, former professor of Madras Institute of Developmental studies.
While those getting Metro Water supply can use only 60-65 lpcd from May onwards, slum dwellers and those living along city’s periphery will get a meagre supply of 40-45 lpcd. Under such circumstances, health and hygiene are two main factors that are severely compromised, said experts.
Those living in slums have been supplied with Metro Water on alternate days for two months now, and that is also of poor quality. Children and the elderly fall sick often. Some have developed skin rashes as water is saline and murky yellow. Across all housing board tenements, women have developed uterus problems due to bad quality of water and unavailability of water to wash.
“At Chitra Nagar in Kotturpuram and tenements in Perumbakkam and Kannagi Nagar women are suffering from vaginal irritation and problems pertaining to uterus because of poor quality of water. People use this water for cooking and bathing, and are forced to compromise on hygiene,” said Nundiyny AD, researcher, Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities.