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Plan Project Disconnect On Water Management  
Source:   The New Indian Express City   : Chennai Published On   20-10-2009  


Chennai Second Master Plan SMP mission statement on water reads thus: Provision of water supply for potable purposes as well as commercial and industrial uses, evacuation of used water and ensuring good sanitation is basic to economic development and safeguarding the health of the people of Chennai Metropolitan Area.

This calls for integrated programmes and management efforts over the entire urban area covering the City, the Municipal Towns, the developing Urban Local Bodies and the new areas that will become urbanized.

Conceding that in the present system there is a wide disparity and iniquity in the supply and delivery of water between the well heeled and the poor, the plan advocates a system based on use for drinking purposes and personal hygiene as common to all groups and requirements for sanitation depending upon the quantities for toilet flushing.

It envisages a supply of between 100 and 120 litres per capita day plod for residential supply with nearly 50% sourced from recycled water for toilet flushing as is the practice in European cities. Indeed a tall order, considering the present average supply is between 30 to 60 plod.

SMP acknowledges that since all major sources have been tapped, Metro Water emphasis should now shift to holistic management of water and optimizing local resources.

For this SMP lays down several policy initiatives to identify management measures, including augmentation of local sources within the Chennai basin.

These include maximizing rainwater harvesting from public and un-built areas; increasing storage capacity of surface tanks recharge of known and new aquifers; recycling of black and grey water reduction of loss through evaporation cutting down transmission losses and other avoidable losses at the consumer end metering of all apartments and restructuring of tariff. Seawater desalination finds no mention.

Chennai has enough rainfall and adequate wastewater to successfully implement the SMP suggestions.

Annual rainfall of Chennai is in the range of 1,200-1,300 mm and it rains for about 300 hours on short spells except on monsoon in October-December. It is imperative that large quantity of rainwater is conserved and stored during these hours.

But this is not taking place due to silting of reservoirs and choking of hundreds of inter-connected water bodies and their catchment areas due to encroachments.

While not much attention is given to these critical areas of water management, it is the seawater desalination plants on which reliance is being placed.

The 100 Million Litre Day MLD Minjur plant in North Chennai is being executed on a design, build, own, operate and transfer basis by a Hyderabad-based firm. Metro water would purchase desalinated water at Rs 48.66 a kilolitre and supply to industries at Rs 60/-.

The highlight of this Rs 510-crore plant is a 600-metre pipeline of 1,600 mm diameter, to be laid below the seabed to draw seawater.

The project, originally scheduled to be completed by January 2009, is being repeatedly re-scheduled. The latest was for January 2010 to be commissioned as Pongal gift to the water-starved city.

This deadline will not also be met because the Hyderabad firm is unable to lay the pipeline below the seabed.

The company is looking for a quite sea and calm waves. Seabed would then be dredged and the pipes would be allowed to float on water.

Once the water starts entering the pipes, they will start sinking. They will then be lowered into the space that has been dug.

God alone knows when this is going to happen and when the Bay of Bengal will turn into a wave less pond to facilitate this! But Metro water is undaunted. In all earnestness the Board is conducting technical assessment of companies that have applied for constructing a similar size and capacity 100 MLD plant in Nemesis on engineering,

Procurement and construction basis. This plant would come up 35 km south of Chennai, at a total cost of Rs 910 crore.

Desalination plants are energy guzzlers. Recharging of the sea with very high saline residue from the plant is environmentally damaging. At Rs 60/- per kilolitre the price of Minjur water is very high.

Considering the Nemesis project cost being nearly double that of Minjur, the price would be much higher.

Consumers in Tirupur, mostly export industries, are not willing to pay even Rs 5/- per kilolitre for water supplied by New Tirupur Area Development Corporation, which is now being subsidised by the State government! Such plants are operating only in Gulf countries floating on oil, where rains were very rare.

In the event, it is difficult to explain Chennai's obsession with this most uneconomic, untenable and unsustainable of all water solutions.

May be the powers-that-be want to disprove the oftheard exclamation, water-water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Even if that drop costs a fortune.

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