Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

[op-ed snap] Things to do to avoid another water crisis


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Water conservation in urban areas to deal with severe water crisis.


The severe situation in Chennai

Chennai has been reeling under its worst water crisis in decades with its four main reservoirs (Sholavaram, Chembarambakkam, Poondi and Red Hills) nearly empty.

The city has not had rain in nearly 200 days; only over the past few days has the city has seen light rainfall. Groundwater too has been over extracted.

Problematic Structure in Chennai

An audit by the non-governmental organisation Rain Centre has shown that most government buildings in Chennai do not have a functioning RWH (Rainwater harvesting)structure; these include several police stations and municipality buildings.

Now, the Greater Corporation of Chennai has ordered the inspection of RWH structures, much after the crisis.

Chennai’s Day Zero: It’s not just meteorology but mismanagement that’s made the city run dry

Lack of systematised solutions –

The issue with any crisis in India is the fire-fighting strategy that we adopt in response as opposed to systematised solutions.

These stop-gap arrangements are soon forgotten when things temporarily go back to normal instead of making an attempt to deeply ingrain these practices in the system.

Case Study of Floods in Chennai -During the floods in Chennai in December 2015, the encroachment of wetlands was widely cited as a key issue. Vanishing catchment areas had resulted in floods. Three-and-a-half years later, no formal mechanism has been put in place to check whether wetlands are being desilted and whether we can avoid a similar flood-like situation again.

Need for water governance

  • According to a recent NITI Aayog report, 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020 if usage continues at the current rate.
  • Water governance in cities across India has been ad hoc.

1. Urban water planning and management board – Learning their lessons from the Chennai crisis, other metropolitan cities should now set up urban water planning and management boards, a permanent body similar to urban development authorities, that regulate the supply, demand and maintenance of water services and structures.

2.Regulation of water Supply –

  • Regulate groundwater supply – On the supply side, this authority should monitor and regulate groundwater in Chennai.
  • Water supply by private tankers must also be regulated with pricing for their services having reached exorbitant levels.
  • Desalinisation Plants – Additional desalination plants should also be commissioned as this water can result in water prices reaching to below 6 paise a litre.
  • Deepening of Existing Lakes – Experts are of the opinion that the beds of existing lakes can be deepened for greater water storage and better water percolation.

3.Demand Side Improvements

  • Measuring and pricing of water supply – Thus, on the demand side of things, Metro Water and groundwater use should be measured and priced progressively, similar to the electricity tariff, where the quantity of use determines the price.
  • Differential Pricing – The board can practise differential pricing and cross-subsidise those households with a lower per capita income use of water.
  • Water meters – For this to be implemented effectively, water meters are a must.

4.Stakeholder coordination

  • Desilting of lakes – The urban water management board should also oversee the desilting of lakes in the city on a regular basis.
  • Maintenance of RWH – The board must also have regulatory powers to monitor the maintenance of RWH structures at homes and in offices.
  • Problems with Existing RWH – In existing RWH structures, pipes are either broken or clogged, filtration equipment is not cleaned, bore pits have too much silt and drains are poorly maintained.
  • Granting approvals –  The body also needs to work in coordination with governments on granting approvals to new mass working spaces.
  • Case Study of  Sriperumbudur-Oragadam belt –  The manufacturing sector around the Sriperumbudur-Oragadam belt, where a number of companies and large manufacturing units have been able to maintain production due to efficient water management practices. For example, in one unit, there is a rainwater harvesting pond and all buildings inside the complex are equipped with facilities for artificial ground water recharge.


  • The scarcity of essential resources not only leads to economic losses but also social unrest.
  • We must also learn from the experiences of other cities across the world such as Cape Town, South Africa, where water saving is being driven through the concepts such as Day Zero, thus prompting better and more efficient use of water.
  • A sustainable governance solution to this problem along with public participation is essential to ensure that our future generations do not suffer as a result of our failures.
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