In view of the severe water crisis that gripped Chennai in 2019, the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply & Sewerage Board (CMWSSB or Metro Water, in short) has unveiled a set of goals for 2020, which if met could help make the city water secure. The agency plans to extend its services to the underserved and unserved areas in the city this year, and ensure the following:
1. Reuse of Waste Water
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In order to meet the growing water needs of the city, Metro Water plans to expand the number of wastewater treatment facilities in Chennai. The city has seen two tertiary treatment reverse osmosis plants inaugurated till date at Kodungaiyur and Koyambedu, with an output of 45 mld each. These supply treated wastewater to the surrounding industries in both areas. The authorities now seek to further tap into the potential to recycle more wastewater and have proposed two Tertiary Treatment Ultra Filtration (TTUF) projects to be set up at Perungudi and Nesapakkam. Each of these plants will have a capacity of 10 MLD each, and will increase supply of water, reducing the stress on existing water resources.
2. Decentralisation of water sources
The city’s heavy reliance on the major lakes at Cholavaram, Red Hills and Chembarambakkam for water has been detrimental in times of water shortage. Hence, the authorities have declared their intent to decentralise water supply with focus on smaller lakes such as the ones in Perumbakkam, Ayanambakkam, Perungudi, Rettai Eri with the establishment of modular water treatment plants to supply 30 MLD of water per day to surrounding areas.
3. More water supply schemes
Metro water has also envisioned extension of water supply to additional areas, through the setting up of additional water supply schemes. The focus will be in the areas of Kottivakkam, Palavakkam, Perungudi, Mugalivakkam, Edayanchavadi, Sadayankuppam, Kadapakkam, Manali, Chinnasekkadu, Nerkundram, Valasaravakkam and Pallikaranai.
The move is seen as a welcome change for the many residents in the outskirts and suburbs, who have had to rely on tankers so far. “We have been living here for four years now. We pay an exorbitant amount as water charges for procuring water through tankers for the apartment complex. Water supply from Metro Water would ease this pressure and reduce costs for many who live in these areas,” says Hari H, a resident of Perungudi.
4. Last Mile Sewerage Connectivity
Under two newly approved schemes, “Azhaithal Inaipu” and “Illanthorum Inaipu,” Metro Water will provide 1 lakh sewer connections to added areas. The areas to benefit from the scheme include Ambattur, Ullagaram and Puzhuthivakkam, Madhavaram, Puthagaram, Nolambur and Sholinganallur. The residents can dial for sewerage connections and will be provided the same without the need to submit any documents. In the areas where new connections are laid, residents may pay for the same in instalments over five years.
“We have been alerted about this scheme and are in talks with the residents of our apartment complex about the next moves. We have a small STP facility on the premises, as we have not had a connection until now. If this scheme becomes operational, we may not have to use the STP and can be linked to the city’s system. Once we get consensus from all residents, we will be applying for this scheme,” said K Nagamani, RWA President of Sapphire Apartments in Shollinganallur.
5. Additional Sewer Lorry Services
The procurement of 50 additional sewer lorries to collect sewage from residences will allow Metro Water to collect 6000-9000 litres of sewage from the areas which do not have underground sewage networks. Residents who have been forced to use the services of private companies to remove sewage may now contact Metro Water for their services. Additionally, this move will help avoid the dumping of untreated sewage into water bodies by private players as the sewage will be taken to one of the four Metro Water treatment plants in the city.
“We are relieved by this announcement because many apartments in Nolambur have been availing the services of private organisations for sewage disposal. The tankers that remove sewage have been found dumping it in the waterways near the Maduravoyal Service Road. With this announcement, we hope that Metro Water lorries will put an end to this dumping of sewage,” says Bhagirathan a resident of Nolambur.
6. Monitoring of groundwater levels
With the city’s heavy reliance on groundwater, an active monitoring mechanism that tracks real time levels will be instituted to ensure that there is no over extraction. This is also expected to balance the use of aquifers to satiate the city’s water needs. 200 locations will be earmarked for realtime monitoring, with the data made available to the public. An audit of groundwater extraction across the city and an audit of rainwater harvesting systems in place are also set to be conducted, to enable informed choices in planning for water security.
“This is a long overdue move. The authorities must do this continuously and monitoring mechanisms must be in place. This is a crucial step for groundwater security and the government must take this seriously. Groundwater is a precious resource and protecting and preventing exploitation of this will help us reduce reliance on sea water and treated water,” says K P Ramalingam, President of Natural Water Resources Movement.
7. GIS mapping of water supply network
An ambitious plan to map the city’s entire water supply and sewage network through Geographic Information System (GIS) will be undertaken. This will help authorities identify and fix any faults in the network as well as monitor the various utilities of the agency. Details on the total number of connections can be identified and updated once such mapping is complete. A pilot version of the project was carried out a decade ago, covering a stretch of 5 km, but the mapping of the entire network failed to take-off.
8. Adoption of solar energy
A renewable energy plan will be formulated and solar energy will be embraced in a phased manner. Installations yielding up to 25MW will be put in place across various properties of the Metro Water department in the first phase of the plan. This will be along the lines of the proposal made by Chennai Corporation to install solar panels on rooftops of buildings owned by the civic body and the proposal by Chennai Metro Rail Limited to tap into solar energy by installing plants at metro stations.
9. Rehabilitation of manual scavengers
Tamil Nadu holds the dubious record of having the largest number of manual scavengers. The Metro Water department aims to rehabilitate all manual scavengers employed in its rolls in 2020. The agency plans to employ those who were engaged in manual scavenging in other work, for example, as drivers of water supply tankers and sewage disposal lorries.
But not everyone is hopeful that this intervention will help the lives of manual scavengers. V Samuel of the Safai Karamchari Andolan explains why. “In 2018, a camp was conducted in six districts to identify manual scavengers employed by various departments,” says Samuel, “More than 2500 manual scavengers attended the camp and declared themselves as manual scavengers, providing all the information asked of them. But the subsequent verification process by the government saw many of them declaring that they were not engaged in manual scavenging, under coercion by the state. In such a case, where manuals scavengers have died in the state as recently as two weeks ago, we are not sure what the department’s understanding of manual scavenging is. They are not doing any proper identification, which is the first step in rehabilitation.”
10. Upgradation of Quality Assurance Lab
The monitoring of water quality is carried out in the QA labs of Metro Water; this determines whether the water supplied meets health and safety standards such as those set by the WHO. The lab is set to receive an upgrade along with skill training programmes for those analysts engaged in testing the quality of water supply.