Chennai has run out of water! The four main reservoirs of the city are completely dry, leaving the citizens in a panic. While there are arguably many reasons for the lack of water in our city, ranging from constructed wetlands to failing rains, the bottom line is that we have run out and are left scrambling, turning to ground water and extra borewells in order to supply us with our daily needs. From water lorries and long streets lined with plastic buckets, every urban Indian has faced some form of water shortage in our lifetime.
What is really frightening about Chennai, however, is the data that shows where we are headed - the figures from a Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) study warn of a reduction to 22 per cent or 3,120 litres per day by 2050, going by the present rate of exploitation of ground water. And as we face more scarcity, we are digging more borewells, further depleting our natural aquifers. Studying the daily per capita ground water availability over the years, we have seen a steady decline in the number of litres available. In 1951, this quantity stood at 14,180 litres — by 2001 this had dropped a staggering 65 per cent to only 5,120 litres.
The future forecast for 2050 means we may be forced to import drinking water, thanks to the fast-depleting groundwater stock. All of this point to the lack of rainwater harvesting through ponds, lakes and wells, poor awareness, and reduced green cover. Water-Use Reduction equals Water-Conservation — it is the easiest method to employ when trying to alleviate the overall water crisis around us. As an architect, when it comes to new buildings, we never fail to specify water-saving shower heads, toilets and low-flow faucet aerators. However, it should be noted that these types of fixtures are easy to retrofit as well, and saving water at home does not require an expensive renovation project.
Although there are expensive water- saving appliances and water conservation systems such as rain barrels, drip irrigation and on-demand water heaters which are more expensive, the bulk of water saving methods can be achieved at little cost. Did you know that 75 per cent of water used indoors is in the bathroom, and 25 per cent of this is for the water closet? Every time we flush, we have a choice we can make. Modern WC’s come with a dual flush feature and can get the job done while giving us the option to choose whether we want to use four or six liters per flush.
The average toilet uses 15 litres per flush. You can invest in a ULF (ultra-low flush) toilet which will use only six litres instead and also offer the option of a four litre flush as required. Water-saving low-flow shower heads or restrictors are also easy to install and easily available. ‘Low-flow’ means it uses less than 9.5 litres per minute. Also, all household faucets should be fit with aerators. These are available at 1.5 to 2.5 gpm and work well for bathroom sinks and most water outlets, delivering the same spray force in a comfortable, soft stream. Finally, it should be noted that installing low-flow aerators, showerheads, and other watersaving devices is a very simple operation which can be done by anyone, doesn’t require a tool kit and costs a few thousand rupees! Be aware — saving water and recharging ground water is the only way to be a responsible citizen of Chennai.