Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Drought Today and Flood Tomorrow - Why?

This post is by guest blogger Prasanna where he talks about an interesting topic that affects all our lives – water shortage and the importance of water conservation.

I am from Chennai and much before the term global-warming (and drought caused by it) came into vogue, Chennai has been having water problems for as long as I remember. It is not yet another article about global warming and its effects (though that really seems to be the need of the hour). Though water shortage has been a perennial problem throughout India, but having experienced it in Chennai time and time again first hand I would like to elaborate on that a little further.

When I visited my parents recently in Chennai the water situation was shocking to say the least. My parents despite their problems with their arthritis had to stand in a long line almost every other day to fill water in every small vessel they knew existed in the household. Though I was able to help them out when I was there after coming back to the US I could not help but think about their travails day in and day out and about how they were going to manage the water shortage. The wells have completely dried and the water table has been going down partly because of the fact that the temperature has been reaching record highs bettering itself every year and also because every Tom, Dick and Harry has been digging up bore wells one after the other, bringing the water table down even further. Just as a side note, a recent satellite images from NASA showed that human activity like irrigation has pushed groundwater levels in India’s north down by as much as one foot per year over the past seven years.

More I thought about the condition back home more I felt guilty about the amount of water we use (waste might be a better word here) here in the US. You have water every time you open your taps. Despite plenty of pleas by the government to cut down water usage (California is reeling under its worst spring in 88 years, with runoff in river basins that feed most reservoirs at 41 percent of average levels. It stops short of a water emergency, which would probably include mandatory rationing). We all would most definitely panic even if there is a water shut down for a day let alone having to manage your entire household with a couple of buckets of water for almost a week as is the case with people in Chennai.

It is not as if Chennai has not been getting rains. In fact the annual rainfall in Chennai is in the range of 1200 - 1300 mm. This is higher compared to the India's average rainfall of 800 mm (I got this information from Chennai Metro water, which supplies drinking water to the city). The problem has been that the water conservation schemes have been horrible. The government over the years has done absolutely nothing. I was so happy when erstwhile CM Jayalalitha announced the rainwater harvesting implementation and she literally forced people to build the simple filter to route the rainwater to wells. I have heard quite a few people thank her for that; if not for the hand-twisting people would not have done anything. Though it was conservation at an extremely small level, it was at the least a good start.

From there on I was hoping the government would do much more to store rainwater whenever there is a downpour. As I said rain water harvesting is a good start. Government needs to start thinking about the following questions and see how best to answer/implement them as soon as possible:

1) How effectively to fill-in many of the local ponds available during the rainy season.

2) How can we better clean up our lakes of slush that accumulates because of wastes that are thrown in them? Desiltation will enable better water retention.

3) What are the other sources of water that we can tap in e.g: desalination or recycling?

4) Obviously how can we plant more trees given the construction mania?

If we can do something about #1 and #2 we should be able to increase the level of the water table. On top of this we also need to teach young kids the importance of water conservation not so much as to educate them but to encourage them to think about alternative sources of water and how best to use them. I also realize that money seems to be the major factor in many of the schemes not getting implemented but you and I know the amount of money that gets wasted on various other deals.

I am most certainly not an hydrology expert to give pointers but some of these are basic common sense and we have enough brain-power back home to do get the s(hortage + orted + oon). :)

The four things that I have mentioned are very short term remedies, but as I said we need to start somewhere.

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Blogger Enchanting said...

Dear Sir/Madam

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September 03, 2009 3:08 PM  
Blogger Karthikeyan said...

Finally there is something that JJ can boast as an achievment...

From TOI (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/city/chennai/Level-quality-of-water-up-in-neighbourhoods/articleshow/4969546.cms)

"The Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) programme, which was introduced in the city in 2002, has worked wonders if officials of the Chennai
Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) or Metrowater are to be believed. In eight parts of the city, they say, the groundwater level has increased considerably while the salt content has gone down by as much as 75%."

September 04, 2009 6:20 PM  

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