Chennai can boast of being home to large global auto majors, presence of huge shopping malls, multi-storied buildings, industrial estates, massive transportation network, growing information technology sector and three ports, but to sustain the growth, it lacks water, considered to be the elixir of life, say experts.
As the Global Investors Meet 2019 wooed investment worth more than `three lakh crore, experts warn that investments cannot be realised until the city’s water security is realised.
According to official data, Chennai’s requirement of water is nearly 1400 million litres per day while the supply is 835 to 875 million litres per day (MLD), and for that too, it is dependent on a good monsoon.
Official sources say future demand projected for domestic utilization will have stress on aquifer systems as the anticipated demand for Chennai city by 2025 will be around 2,000 MLD, a 50 per cent increase from what it is now.
Water crisis in the city has been cited as a weakness by Anarock Property Consultants (APC), who brought out the report ‘Chennai: From Resilience to Growth.’ Santhosh Kumar, vice-chairman, APC, said while the city has expanded exponentially over the years, civic amenities, including public water supply, are still not readily available in many areas, including newly-built housing societies or commercial projects.
Such projects depend on private tankers for their water supply. While some also have their own borewells, depleting water levels coupled with massive requirements still compel them to depend on tanker supplies. This ultimately results in depletion of groundwater levels.
While most expanded areas of Chennai, which were included in city limits eight years ago, are yet to get piped water and have been paying cess without having any access to water, availability of water has shrunk. Promises of additional desalination plants are only on paper. There are half-hearted measures to preserve water bodies as land use plan of Chennai city gets altered every now and then, resulting in waterbodies getting encroached or being shrunk.
‘Groundwater mined, not tapped’
Avinash Mishra, advisor to National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog who is part of the committee studying water situation to prevail in cities post 2020, says that new desalination plants could help the city withstand the water stress but that is not enough. Mishra, who was part of the team that came out with NITI Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index that was released in June 2018 and which highlighted that Chennai will be among 21 cities which will run out of groundwater by 2020, says that groundwater is mined in the city rather being tapped. “In Chennai, groundwater is being mined at the rate of 133 per cent than what is getting recharged which is posing a serious threat to groundwater resources,” he says while warning of a water crisis.
“Chennai should immediately stop tapping ground water resources and consider out-of-the-box solutions,” says Mishra, who is now helping NITI Aayog come out with fresh Composite Water Management Index which is expected to be released next month.
He says the solution for Chennai lies in water management and waste water treatment. “The actual quantity of drinking water in litre per capita per day (lpcd) provided to the population is 150 lpcd, but hardly 80 per cent of it comes back as most of it gets wasted,” he says. He also said the State should look at preserving its waterbodies rather than turning them into dumping grounds. As per 2013 figures, the city had 29 major waterbodies initially, having a total area of 98,78,277 sq metres. But they had been reduced to 50,42,082 sq metres — almost half. Interestingly, waterbodies in the city which have been declining, are now being rejuvenated and tenders have been floated under smart city initiative.
While Tamil Nadu’s rainwater harvesting is being hailed in the country, an audit report on rainwater harvesting prepared by consultant Aakash Ganga Trust following the direction of then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, is yet to be dusted off after being submitted in 2015. When Express contacted Shekar Raghavan, pioneer of Rain Water Harvesting in Chennai, who helped prepare the audit report, he said he had recommended changes in rainwater harvesting system as CMDA had suggested to fill up the recharge well with gravel. “We suggested it should be left empty to recharge groundwater,” he says.
Raghavan says the need of the hour is to have a single department which should take care of entire water resources of the State rather than working in silos like Water Resources Department which comes under Public Works Department and Metro Water which comes under Municipal and Water Supply department. “The need of the hour is to set up department of rainwater management or a unified authority of water resources which should ensure water supply and frame policies for water conservation unlike working in silos,” he said.
Impact of higher FSI
Interestingly, the Housing department of Tamil Nadu government has relaxed the Floor Space Index (FSI), which could result in taller buildings that could suck out more groundwater resulting in further water crisis. This has been challenged by a former Anna University Urban Engineering professor K P Subramanian. He says the rise in FSI will put enormous stress on water availability. Recalling the water crisis in 1990s, the former professor said water was brought through lorries and the government even planned of evacuating people from Chennai. “There was even restriction on construction of buildings as this would also require water,” the professor recalled and warned the situation can repeat unless measures are taken.
He said about 70 per cent of total investment for urban development in Tamil Nadu by government and private is made only in Chennai. “The over-emphasis of Chennai has a counterproductive effect. More the investment, more is the attraction for migrants. Therefore, the situation warrants out of the box solutions. Greater thrust should be given to development of Secondary Cities- Coimbatore, Madurai, Tiruchy, Salem, and Tirunelveli.
“US Cities secure their boundary through MUSA (Municipal Urban Services Act). Developments outside the boundary would not get any urban services. Chennai warrants such out of the box solutions, failing which the city will decline and die,” he warns.
A former engineer of Water Resources Department privy to government proposals says that resolving water crisis is now one of the major concerns of the government and recycle and reuse can be the new mantra. “We will outlive 2025 and there will not be any water crisis for the State,” he says.