Relearning the role of water in our cities

Rain is the modern-day tragedy in our cities: we desperately wait for the monsoons and when it rains, we weep because roads are flooded, life is disrupted. Mumbai, just a few months ago, was so thirsty for the monsoons that it was close to rationing its water supply. But then the rains came. The city did not rejoice. Instead, it went under water, all mixed with sewage and garbage, drowned in bad health. This scene is not very different in Delhi or any other city you can think of.

But the real tragedy is that in a few months, after the rains, our cities will be thirsting again. But then, rain is not part of our plan.

We believe we are all-powerful. Water greed will make us draw water from surrounding areas. Today, our cities get their water supply from further and further away – Delhi gets Ganga water from the Tehri dam, Bangalore is building the Cauvery IV project, pumping water 100km to the city, Chennai water will traverse 200km from the Krishna, Hyderabad from Manjira and so on. The point is that the urban industrial sector’s demand for water is growing by leaps and bounds. But this sector does little to augment its water resources, it does even less to conserve and minimize its use. Worse, because of the abysmal lack of sewage and waste treatment facilities, it degrades scarce water even further. But even after all this, its water greed is not met. Groundwater levels are declining precipitously in urban areas as people bore deeper in search of the water that municipalities cannot supply.

So, when it does not rain it cries and when it does rain, it cries. The cycle of water deprivation continues and we have done nothing to change our tomorrow.

This when we can do so much more. The water imperative is that cities must begin to value their rainfall endowment. This means implementing rainwater harvesting in each house and colony. But it also means relearning about the hundreds of tanks and ponds that nourished the city. Almost every city had a treasure of tanks, which provided it the important flood cushion and allowed it to recharge its groundwater reserves. But urban planners cannot see beyond land. So, land for water, has never been valued or protected. Today, these water bodies are a shame — encroached, full of sewage, garbage or just filled up and built over. The city forgot it needed water. It forgot its own lifeline.

Lakes are the vital sponges of the city. Every city gave its land for rain. Bangalore, at the beginning of the 1960s, had 262 lakes, now only 10 hold water. The Ahmedabad collector — on directions from the high court — listed 137 lakes in the city but also said that over 65 had been built over already. In Delhi, 508 water bodies were identified — again on court orders — but are not protected.

But to rethink the role of rain in our city, will require new learning in society. Just consider: builders and architects have simply never been taught how to hold water. They have been trained to see water as waste and to build systems to dispose of it as quickly as possible. German cities are learning from our experience. To save investment in building stormwater drains, the city charges a tax based on how much rainwater has been harvested by the household.

But this even this will not be enough. Each of our cities will have to learn the real value of rainwater: we will have to minimize water use and work on conservation and reuse. We will have to take our sewage and treat it so that we can recycle it — either for recharge or to make it fit for drinking.

Otherwise we will be the ultimate lost generation, which has forgotten the art of living with water. Our tragedy and our water crisis.

SUNITA NARAIN –  (The author is director of Centre for Science and Environment) – TOI

Salem Residents: Give us water

Fill these pots: Residents of Kamaraj Colony in ward-16 in Salem staging road blockade on Thursday demanding adequate supply of water. - Photo: E. Lakshmi Narayanan


Residents flay supply of contaminated water

not potable:Residents of ward 21 of Virudhunagar town displaying contaminated water.

VIRUDHUNAGAR: Residents of ward 21 of Virudhunagar town have complained of sewage mixing with drinking water supplied through pipeline.

The residents fumed that drinking water was being supplied only two times a month in the town.

And even that little water was not usable for any purpose, a resident said.

Stating that chikungunya broke out in the area few months back, they fear of falling victim to diarrhoea due to water contamination.

The problem was prevalent in Marimuthu lane, Ramasamy lane, Andichiamman lane, Poosari lane and Kuppaiah lane, they said.

The ward councillor, N. Thangapandiammal, said she had complained about the issue to the administration two months back.

But no concrete action has been taken so far.


Siruvani water position improving

COIMBATORE: Though there has been heavy drawal of drinking water from the Siruvani Dam during the World Classical Tamil Conference (June 23-27), moderate rainfall is helping in improving the situation now, Mayor R. Venkatachalam said on Tuesday.

Rain God's blessing:Rain helps in maintaining a comfortable water level in Siruvani Dam.

There was no heavy rain in the catchments during the conference period, but whatever was given by the South West Monsoon enabled the Coimbatore Corporation draw 80 million litres a day, as against the 62 mld to 70 mld prior to the monsoon setting in, the Mayor said.

“This is why we are able to supply Siruvani water to some eastern and northern wards in the city that face shortage under the Pilloor Scheme,” he pointed out.

From 20.34 ft (as against the full reservoir level of nearly 51 ft) on June 24, the water level in the dam dipped to 19.35 ft on June 29.

“With lakhs of people visiting the conference venue, there was a huge need for drinking water,” the Mayor explained. “Now, whatever the monsoon offers will increase the level steadily as there will be less pressure on the supply front,” he said.

The Mayor also said: “We have already restored the alternate day supply. This points at the comfortable situation we are in.

Between June 24 and 29, the catchments received rainfall ranging from 3 mm to 16 mm.

The monsoon is expected to turn vigorous in the first or second week of July. There will be further improvement in the supply position,” he said.

The Mayor assured the people in the city that the last anxiety-filled summer was over.

“The Pilloor Phase II scheme will be completed before the next summer and the city will have enough water from three schemes: Siruvani, Pilloor I and Pilloor II. The Bhavani and Aliyar schemes for the suburbs will remove the pressure on these schemes,” he said.


Residents face acute drinking water shortage

ERODE: The residents of a number of colonies in Periya Semur municipality here are facing acute drinking water shortage.

An ordeal:Many colonies in Periya Semur Municipality, Erode district, are experiencing severe water scarcity. — PHOTO: M. GOVARTHAN

The frequency of water supply stretched from a minimum of two days to 10 days in many residential areas. “Sometimes, we get water once in 15 days. Many of us are forced to fetch water from distant places and also buy water from private suppliers,” residents complain.

It is very common to see women from the poor families fetching water from distant locations. “We cannot afford to buy water from the private suppliers. So, we use the push carts to carry the water pots,” women point out.

The municipality had earlier provided water supply once in two days. The piped water supply would be maintained for at least two to three hours or even for four hours on weekends and on holidays. However, for the past few months, the duration gradually reduced and the supply restricted to an hour or 30 minutes depending on the quantum of water stored in overhead tanks.

The problems in the drinking water supply network of the municipality and rampant illegal tapping of water were said to be the major reasons for the shortage. The leaks and pipeline damages at many parts were yet to be attended.

Similarly, the officials were yet to initiate concrete action against the persons and commercial establishments, which were illegally tapping water from the local body’s pipelines.

“The commercial establishment, particularly eateries, were using motor pumpsets to tap from the pipelines. This had severely affected the water supply in the tail-end areas,” people pointed out.

Residents urged the municipal administration to initiate immediate steps to sort out the problems in the water distribution network and ensure adequate supply of water.

Officials of the local body, however, maintained that they were providing sufficient supply of drinking water to the people.


Contaminated drinking water: Seven fall sick

HYDERABAD: Tension prevailed at Gandhi Kutir basti in Narayanguda on Tuesday with the 3,000 odd basti residents alleging health problems due to contaminated drinking water that is being supplied to the area. Reportedly 30 persons, including several children from this basti, fell sick in the last 10 days. On Tuesday, seven
people, including three children were admitted to Fever Hospital.

Residents claimed that the basti has been getting polluted water over the last six to seven months and despite registering complaints with the water board, no action was taken. “We get dirty water for the first 30 minutes of the supply and just when the clean water starts coming, the supply stops,” said M Satyamma, a resident of the basti.

Another resident, Radhika, added that in the last one week, at least 100 residents had to get admitted in Fever Hospital and other private hospitals with health problems due to contaminated water.

Responding to the situation, the district health authorities set up a medical camp in the basti on Tuesday and found cases of typhoid, viral fever, body pain and other minor ailments. As many as 120 people of those screened had health problems, said district medical and health officer Dr Ch Jayakumari. The health officials distributed chlorine tablets along with ORS sachets and paracetamol tablets to the ailing residents and said that the medical camp will continue for two days. Besides, the water samples were sent to the Institute of Preventive Medicine for testing quality.

“The water board officials took the matter lightly. Had they taken it seriously, the situation would not have become so serious,” said J Hemawathi, local corporator.

District collector Natrajan Gulzar and health minister D Nagender visited the spot and directed the water board officials to replace the pipelines in the area immediately.

Meanwhile, rubbishing the allegations of the residents that they fell sick due to contaminated water, water board officials said that potable water was being supplied to the residents.

“There was a marriage in the area some time ago. This is in response to that. We have tested the water in front of the basti residents and found traces of chlorine, which confirms that it is potable water. All the residents have pit taps which are not maintained hygienically,” said P V Rama Babu, director, operations, Water Board.

However, Babu further said that as per the instructions of the health minister, the Water Board will replace the existing pipelines including those of individual connections. The work will be completed in about 15 days, he said adding that the water supply through the pipelines will be stopped for the next three days and the basti will be supplied water through water tankers.


Dindigul: Drinking water project to be over by September

DINDIGUL: Combined Cauvery drinking water projects (phase II) meant for Reddiyarchatram and Vedasandur will be completed by September end, said I. Periasamy, Minister for Revenue.

He was inaugurated the panchayat union office and distributed free gas stoves and gas connections to beneficiaries at a function held at Reddiyarchatram here on Tuesday evening.

Seventy per cent of the water project work meant for Reddiyarchatram union and 75 per cent of work meant for Vedasandur was over. Pipeline was laid to a distance of 36 kilometres.

The TWAD Board was advised to expedite the work to complete it by September end. On completion of the project, drinking water crisis of these areas will be solved, he added.

Main objective of opening more and more fair price or ration shops at villages was to scale down the distance between the shops and the houses. People need not have to travel for a long distance to buy PDS goods. Moreover, distribution of PDS goods would be done quickly and people need not wait in long queues to get their goods.

To take the government schemes quickly to people, the government had created 22 taluks in the State so far.

Later, the Revenue Minister inaugurated fair price shops at Sullerumbu Kadiraiyan kulam and Thekkampatti in Reddiyarchatram union built at a cost of Rs.2.6 lakh and panchayat union office constructed at a cost of Rs.6 lakh. Free gas stoves were given to 208 families and old age pension to 529 beneficiaries.

The TWAD Board had already implemented Rs.100 crore Cauvery drinking water project for Dindigul and neighbouring town panchayats including Natham. Second phase of the project was under progress to supply protected drinking water to residents in Vedasandur and Reddiyarchatram.