Parched Chennai: Why India must focus on building water storage capacity

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Published: May 25, 2019 3:18:35 AM

The southern metropolis faces one of its worst water-crises ever; India must focus on building storage capacity.

Studies show that the three main sources of water—Red Hills Lake, Poondi reservoir and Cholavaram Lake—will not be able to provide water by June.

Chennai is facing one of the worst water crises it has ever seen. There is just 1.3% water left in the city’s reservoirs—the fifth-lowest amount in 74 years. In 2018, the city received less than of what is usually does from the retreating/northeast monsoon that accounts for 60% of its annual rainfall. Consecutive years of drought have worsened the crisis. The city, whose water requirement is estimated at 2,000 million litres per day (MLD), is now receiving only 550MLD. The need to provide water for agriculture in the rest of the state and to the parched city simultaneously has caused a massive problem for the state government, since the land under cultivation and the population have both increased. Studies show that the three main sources of water—Red Hills Lake, Poondi reservoir and Cholavaram Lake—will not be able to provide water by June.

Against this backdrop, NITI Aayog, in June 2018, published a water management index report of India’s states. It mentioned that cities in 21 states, including Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people. With large scale migration and urbanization, water is needed to feed industries, agriculture and the humans settling in these cities. Indian cities—indeed, the country itself—need to make serious water conservation and harvesting efforts. Even in a bad year, India gets around 2,600 billion cubic metres (bcm) of rain while it needs around 1,100 bcm to meet all requirements; but its capacity to store water is a mere 253 bcm. So, with 90% of the available rain water not getting stored, a failure of rain is a near-catastrophe, especially so for parched cities like Chennai.

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