Elets Exclusive | Improvement in progress: Chennai gearing to overcome water woes

Dr. Prabhushankar T Gunalan, Executive Director, Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board

Water woes of Chennai city are quite infamous, especially the most recent drought that hit the city in 2019 which prompted a dire need for an efficient and effective water management system for the city. Whereas, on the other hand, in 2015 the city was under water struggling from one of the worst floods it has ever faced. However, droughts are a recurring problem Chennai faces. The situation simply demands not only preparedness towards the recurring droughts but also a well-placed and effectively-functioning water management system to prevent such calamities occurring in future. Emphasising on the measures being taken by the authorities to address the issue, Dr. Prabhushankar T Gunalan, Executive Director, Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) joins in a webinar hosted by Dr Ravi Gupta, Founder and CEO, Elets Technomedia.

Addressing the water woes in Chennai, Dr. Prabhushankar said, Chennai is very much dependent on the mercy of nature for its water requirements. “We receive monsoon for a short window”, he added. In case monsoon fails, the upcoming year will be a drought. “Almost every second year is a drought in Chennai”, said Dr. Prabhushankar.

Describing the demography and water demand, Dr. Prabhushankar said that 80 lakh people reside in the city of which 90 percent are migrants. Also, we have a huge settlement of industries like pharma, textile, science & technology firms and more, which add on to the demand. To cater to the needs, we have four lakes and a surface water reservoir which serves 55 percent of the population. The rest is being taken care of by the groundwater sources, he added.

Chennai had not been this big city ever since. It expanded to its present size in 2005. However, the supply network could not keep pace with the rapid population growth. The supply network is being expanded now to the new limits and work for the same is underway. This explains why water tankers are being used widely in the city for water supply, added Dr. Prabhshankar

Innovative measures and technology to address Chennai’s water woes

When asked about the measure being taken by the authorities to resolve the issue, Dr. Prabhushankar said, there are various projects they are working on to help the situation. Due to the grim situation, authorities have been actively working on wastewater reuse. “And, I must tell you that Chennai has been pioneering in wastewater reuse. We have the largest capacity in the country accounting to 10 percent of wastewater reuse”, said Dr. Prabhushankar.

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Moreover, not only the civic bodies in Chennai but the Government of Tamil Nadu has been very responsive in considering rainwater harvesting as an effective measure. As a result, 90 percent of the households in Chennai have a functional rainwater harvesting system, said Prabhushakar.

Further informing about the initiatives underway, Dr. Prabhushankar mentioned that the CMWSSB is working on an ‘ultra filtration’ project in which the lakes will be filled with tertiary treated water and then the water will be used for various other purposes.

Prabhushankar said that we are proactively working on demand management and ensuring the water is used judiciously. “In the upcoming 4-5 years, Chennai will no longer be dependent on monsoon waters”, he added.

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Talking about the usage of technology, Dr. Prabhushankar said, that has come in handy to tackle water issues and manage the resource in a judicious manner. One such intervention is using technology to track water usage. Dr. Prabhushankar said, “Under the smart city mission, we are installing automated meter reading (AMR) meters to keep a check on water consumption and water wastage. As of yet, in around 13,000 commercial establishments, the new meters have been installed. We will further extend the installation process by covering domestic establishments as well”, he added.

Moreover, he said that once the COVID19 pandemic is over,  CMWSSB will be conducting a door-to-door survey to collect a database of water consumption and will be carrying water audits as well. This will not only help the authorities to keep in check the demand & supply gap but also the quality of the water and whether the resources are being exploited.

Dr. Prabhushankar also mentioned about a recent innovative measures implemented by CMWSSB. He said, “We started using abandoned mine queries as a water source. We noticed that the abandoned mines had groundwater and can also act as a reservoir. But, such water can be harmful so we tested the water for various parameters including radioactivity. And, it was found that the water was fit for drinking.”

Impact of COVID19 on water management in Chennai

Dr. Prabhushankar, when questioned on the impact of COVID19, said, “The lockdown is not for us. We have to carry out our jobs to ensure safe and adequate water to every household in the city, especially in this time of COVID19 when everyone is washing hands regularly and are concerned about their hygiene more than ever before.”

Usually, it is really hard to manage the crowd aggregating around the water tankers, but in this time of the pandemic, we are taking strict measures to make people stand in queues to get their daily supply of water. Also, we are ensuring that social distancing is being followed.

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Furthermore, he said that keeping in mind the social distancing practice and lockdown norms, officials are ensuring the social distancing is taken care of in CMWSSB office premises. Also, the officials are wearing masks and using PPEs in the office as well. “We have also equipped the people involved in sanitation work with proper safety gears”, he added.

Chennai on the path of improving water scenario 

Wrapping up the session, Dr. Prabhushankar concluded by saying that though there are a lot of issues concerning  management of water in the city,but currently we are water positive and in a manageable position for at least next two years. However, as the projects are still underway and not yet functional, we are at the mercy of nature.

“The Greater Chennai Corporation is working on desilting all the water bodies in Chennai. We are also working on groundwater use management. We have a very good rainwater harvesting system in place. And, in coming years Chennai will be in a much better position”, said Dr. Prabhshankar.

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