There is bound to be water shortages in every city, in the scorching summer months. So, it's high time we paid more attention to water conservation. Here is how Chennai learnt to use water wisely.
By Gemmarie Venkataramani
Remember back in the days when many of you had to stand outside your apartment past midnight, to fill up buckets of water from the water tankers? You may even have had to request your teenage children to help you in bringing up the water? Their health and yours must have suffered on account of sleep deprivation. This is something familiar to old-time residents of Chennai. All of us have learnt to thank the rain gods copiously year after year, and many of us now do rainwater harvesting (RWH). This has helped, but more can be done.
With the temperatures rising and summer showers still a long way away, water shortages are bound to occur, in every city. How has Chennai learnt to deal with the water-stressed months? Let's find out from a brief history of rainwater harvesting, in the city.
“Chennai’s only source of water is rain. The groundwater is either salty or iron-laden. Regular recharge of groundwater with rain dilutes these elements making it usable for purposes of washing and cleaning. It is important for us to continue to harvest rainwater,” says Dr Sekar Raghavan (SR) of Rain Centre. Rainwater harvesting is the capturing of rainwater and storing it for future use.
As the roads, front and backyards of the houses were paved (and still are) in most places, there was no scope for rainwater to penetrate the soil and be stored underground. A long time resident of Besant Nagar in Chennai and a former university professor with a doctorate in Physics, Dr Raghavan observed 16 years ago how such lack of knowledge and improper planning could endanger the water situation in the city.
He went on a door-to-door campaign in 1995 to spread awareness on rainwater harvesting. Many gave him a cold shoulder, others instructed their watchman not to allow him in their compound. Some shouted. A few listened. Not many showed interest. But nothing could deter him from realising his dream of a Chennai that was free of water problems.
He published a series of articles on the importance of rainwater harvesting and this resulted in a positive response from the public. Eventually in 2002, the Government of Tamil Nadu brought out a law making rainwater harvesting mandatory for both old and new buildings. The Metrowater Board was also given the task of popularising the concept. That was the beginning.
Challenge: Your toilet uses a lot of water
Solution: Install a two flush buttons, one for full flush which utilises all the water from the flush tank, and the other for half flush. This option can save an average household approximately 7560 litres of water each year.
Challenge: Leaky faucets that drip at the rate of one drip per second
Solution: If your apartment has an individual water meter, read it before and after a two-hour period when no water was used. If the meter does not read exactly the same, you have a leak. Fix it!
Challenge: A leaky toilet can waste about 7560 litres of water every day.
Solution: To identify the leak, place a drop of food colouring in the tank; if the colour shows in the bowl without flushing, you have a leak. Fix it!
Challenge: Washing machines use lots of water per load.
Solution: Wash only full loads of laundry.
Challenge: The shower knob is fun to turn, but a lot of water gets used.
Solution: Use a bucket and be amazed at how much water you save.
Challenge: Children and adults are unaware of running water from the tap when brushing their teeth or shaving.
Solution: Turn off the tap and keep a plastic tumbler for use while brushing your teeth or shaving.
During the monsoon of 2005, Chennai received 250 cm of rainfall (nearly double the average rainfall of 130 cm). People from different parts of the city indicated that their groundwater table rose by six metres (20 ft) and many wells that were completely dry for years came back to life. Likewise, 39 temple tanks, in and around areas where residents did rainwater harvesting, now maintain 3 ft. of water
Water is essential. Why, water is life itself. Yet every day and in so many different ways, we misuse this precious resource. In the coming summer months, conservation is the only way forward. Let us harness every drop of rainwater. And let us learn to use water wisely and not waste it.
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