Chennai’s reservoirs are at their lowest level since 2005, sparking fears of a water crisis in the upcoming summer months.

The combined water level at Poondi, Cholavaram, Red Hills and Cherambakkam stands at 4,995 million cubic feet (mcft), about 40 per cent lower than in 2012.

The reservoirs currently stand at 45 per cent of their total capacity of 11,057 mcft, compared to over 80 per cent the same time last year.

Chennai received about 1021 mm of rainfall in 2012, 30 per cent less than the average 1,300 mm. The bulk of the deficit was during the North-east Monsoon, which brings most of the rainfall.

This is the lowest rainfall in the city since the 2003 drought when the reservoirs reached zero storage level.

The Veeranam project, which brings water to Chennai from over 235 km away, has 499 mcft of water stored, its lowest level since the 2003 drought.

However, officials at the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewarage Board (CMWSSB) dismissed suggestions of a water crisis. They say that the storage in the reservoirs would last at least till the end of April at current levels; moreover, water from the Telugu Ganga Project and local rainwater harvesting efforts are expected to augment supply.

Tamil Nadu has asked Andhra Pradesh to step up water supply from the Kandaleru reservoir on the Telugu Ganga Canal. But there has been no increase in the flow.

Chennai needs 1,200 million litres a day. Piped water supply amounts to 985 million litres a day and the rest is met through other sources such as groundwater.

Chennai also has India’s biggest desalination plant at Minjur built at a cost of Rs 600 crore. However, it has been criticised by scientists for being energy intensive; it is also reported to pollute the marine environment with extensive brine discharge.

(Dhruba studied Physics at Xavier’s, Kolkata, and Gaurav did English Literature at Delhi University. Both then went on to study at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.)

(This article was published on April 24, 2013)
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