Water Conservation: What You Need To Know

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

Water Conservation: What You Need To Know
Wasting a precious resource, drop by drop

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.   

Looking back into rainwater harvesting

“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.

The city adopts rainwater harvesting

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. 

Water Conservation: What You Need To Know

What you can do: conserving water at home

Watch that flush

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.

Fix that leak

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!

Leaky toilet

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!

Make it full load

Challenge: Washing machines use lots of water per load.

Solution: Wash only full loads of laundry.

Shower power

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.

Turn it Off

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.

A big difference

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 Conservation: What You Need To Know

Conserving water in your neighbourhood

  • RWH programmes should be intensified in every city. In Chennai city alone, the run-off water that can be collected will be about 60 million cubic meters.
  • Citizens should be vigilant to save urban lakes from encroachment, so that rainwater gets stored. This will prevent flooding.
  • Citizen/Apartment association bodies could approach corporates to rehabilitate urban tanks as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
  • Associations of large apartments can set up good water management practices, if the builder has not done it.
  • We should take our children on a tour of places like the Rain Centre (044-2461-6134) in Chennai where one can find model structures and information on rainwater harvesting.
  • We can volunteer along with our children and participate in group efforts to clean up the neighbourhood. For instance, you could work together to remove garbage that clogs pipes and groundwater. Groups like Exnora conduct such activities in Chennai. There are also several non governmental organisations (NGOs) across the country working in the field of water conservation. One such is WaterAid India, which though Delhi-based, has water conservation operations in eleven different states and cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad. 
  • Rainwater Club, is an initiative in Bengaluru that seeks to disseminate information on RWH. 

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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