Residents of India’s sixth largest city, Chennai, face the challenge of water crisis which has been made worse this year after drought which followed poor rainfall last year. Even as the city’s major reservoirs run dry, and taps stop flowing, bore wells too are drying up.
Media reports quoted a study by Rain Centre, a Chennai-based voluntary organisation as having found the decline in average groundwater level in Chennai by a staggering nine metres during June 2019. It is a situation where the Mantra of ‘recycle, reuse and replenish’ water comes to mind. While the short term solutions include water tanker trains, experts are speaking about the need to stop depending on the monsoon as Chennai’s major source of water – which is where the ‘Mantra’ gains relevance.
Across India, water scarcity amidst fast rising urbanization is a common factor. There is definitely the need to define the challenge, and work out solutions. In Chennai, the powers-that-be have made efforts: desalination plants in Nemmeli and Minjur, giant borewells in Neyveli aquifer and mines, agricultural wells in Tiruvallur district, and abandoned quarries on the city’s fringes —these are among the sources of water that quench Chennai’s thirst by roughly 525 million litres a day.
The newest media mention about additional water supply is about transporting water by train from Jolarpet, 220 km from a parched Chennai. Amidst hopes of a late revival of the monsoon, bringing relief to the city’s residents, there is a need to look ahead, and pan for solutions that look beyond the monsoon as the major source of water supply. There are solutions which will reduce, if not totally alleviate, the challenge of water scarcity.
Across Metro Cities in India, real estate projects have adopted these – and the results have been positive. Going beyond just the ‘Mantra’, there is a need for solutions which are sustainable, and can help the city become water-sufficient. So, first, Chennai needs to reuse and replenish water. Sewage needs to be treated through sewage treatment plants (STPs) and the water can be re-used for washing and flushing, among other uses.
When it comes to replenish, it is about rain water harvesting, which would charge the water table and enhance levels of water available in wells and similar water bodies. At the first level i.e. reuse, we are ensuring maximum usage from one unit of water through STPs. On the second level we are using rain water to charge the underground water table.
For a city like Chennai, these options can also be retrofitted in existing real estate properties, while it should be ensured that under construction projects incorporate both these right from the planning stage. These options are simple to implement, and will go a long way in ensuring that the Garden City returns to ‘full bloom’ when it comes to being a city which very recently faced the fury of floods. For all stakeholders in the city, this is a situation which calls for better planning and management of water resources.
As media reports suggest, a proposal to impose a five year ban on new construction In Bengaluru is not likely to solve the crisis. In Chennai, real estate construction has been severely affected, and there’s worry that the impact of the water shortage could also be on price points of homes – sadly, these will most probably move upwards, we definitely need a workable solution to the water crisis.
In Chennai, suggestions to deal with the water crisis keep being mentioned in the media. Prominent among these, even as the city’s population grapples with the worst water crisis over the past decade and a half, is about revival of the many water bodies across the city.
The powers-that-be need to take immediate measures to conserve water, manage water resources and ensure that rainwater harvesting as also recycling of water through STPs is strictly implemented.
Dr. Niranjan Hiranandani is Founder & MD, Hiranandani Group. His new venture is Hiranandani Communities. He is President (Nation), National Real Estate Development Council (NAREDCO), which works under the aegis of Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs, Government of India.