CHENNAI: The city is yet again witnessing a year of water crisis. And as it happens every time — the city’s water reservoirs turn dry — the next inevitable option is groundwater from villages on the periphery.
Private water suppliers and Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board are pumping out millions of litres of groundwater every day from these places. The giant Metro Water pipelines and tanker lorries of private operators bring millions of litres of ground water from these villages to the city. As City Express travelled along these villages, we discovered how the city is unfairly drying out their resources.
The situation is rather depressing and alarming — thousands of borewells have been sunk at these villages by the Metro Water Board and private operators. The borewells are being dug deeper every year, which seems to be inevitable considering the fact that the motors run for almost the entire day.
If a borewell turns dry, it needs to be abandoned and a new one sunk. And, it is not that just a few dry borewells are being left behind — Chennai’s thirst has turned several villages barren.
Every year, more villages are being targeted. There is no regulation, or even a count of the number of borewells that have been dug and how much water is being pumped out. Even a conservative estimate gives an alarming perspective. In 2011, in a reply to an RTI question, the Metro Water Board stated that the demand-supply gap in the city was 320 million litres per day. It can now be assumed that the gap had remained the same and is being met by private players, whose only source is ground water. This year’s policy note of the Municipal Administration and Water Supply Department says that Metro Water Board draws on an average, 60 million litres per day from borewells.
This means about 380 million litres of groundwater is being pumped out every day to meet the city’s needs, which comes to 1,38,700 million litres a year.
This is nearly one-and-half (1.35 exactly) times the capacity of the Chembarambakkam lake, the largest waterbody on Chennai’s outskirts.
What will happen if such a phenomenal amount of water is being pumped out from the ground? Just as Chennaiites did not realise how a huge amount water is being drawn for them, the damage caused in the process also goes unnoticed. The most compelling, yet rarely noticed location is Minjur and the host of surrounding villages.
Decades of drawing water from these areas to meet Chennai’s needs has depleted potable groundwater from these villages to such an extent that the residents here are are now forced to buy water from private tanker lorry operators, or water cans.
“Once upon a time, farmers here happily leased out their borewells to Metro Water. They were happy as the board promptly paid them, but they realised the consequences very late,” says R Bhathavatchalu, who resides in a tiny agricultural village called Mettupalayam, near Minjur.
More precariously, with the depletion of groundwater, sea water had intruded into the ground in these villages. A latest study by Anna University’s Geology Department has shown that seawater has intruded up to 14 kilometres of the Araniar-Kosathalaiyar River basin, a vast area dotted with water bodies, in the northern part of the city. “This is more worrisome because reversing sea water intrusion is a very long process,” says Dr L Elango, head of the Geology Department, Anna University.
The story is depressing as no lessons have been learnt from Minjur.
New borewells are being dug in newer and more interior villages. For example, in the south of the city, until a few years ago, private water tankers were pumping water from borewells in Medavakkam. As this area has dried up, they have moved further south to interior villages like Illalur.
“This is definitely not sharing of resources, but cutting off someone else’s lifeline and leave him to bleed. It is high time the city looks for scientific solutions like the Orange Country water management system,” says S Sundaramoorthy, former Engineering Director of Metro Water.