Lets start with a global perspective…
Water scarcity impacts every continent on the planet today.
Let alone rural India where ~30% of the population lacks access to potable water, water scarcity is now a serious problem in 22 of India’s 32 major cities.
Delhi’s water woes
Lets move closer to home now, and focus on Delhi’s water troubles.
With a population of ~17.4 million, growing at ~2% annually, the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi is the most populous city in India, next only to Mumbai.
Delhi Jal Board: the wrong kind of fame
The city’s water supply, treatment and distribution are managed by the notoriously inefficient Delhi Jal Board (DJB), in the headlines late last year for its face-off with the short-lived Kejriwal regime. While the confrontation itself was largely unproductive, it did provide extensive material for grateful cartoonists and meme artists.
Quick fact: As on Mar 2011, the DJB had water resources of 805 MGD (Million Gallons Daily).
Yamuna waters underutilized
So the DJB leaves much to be desired, but can one rely on the good old Yamuna to meet our growing water needs? Well, not quite.
While water from the Yamuna, is the most important water source for Delhi, the fact is it is shared with the basin states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.
Delhi’s share of the Yamuna water amounts to 0.724 BCM (Billion Cubic Meters).
A funny situation to be in but one with a straightforward fix. Which was to build a dam !
But here’s where the plot thickens. In order to fully utilize the flow of the river during the monsoon, MOUs were indeed signed to build two dams up the Yamuna – the Renuka dam (275 MGD) in Himachal Pradesh and the Kishau dam (372 MGD) in Uttarakhand.
This was in the year 1994.
In the ensuing twenty years, particle physicists discovered a new elementary particle, America got it’s first black President and teenagers then reached adulthood…but Delhi did not get its two dams.
Due to disputes between the concerned states, work on these dams is pending even today.
That said, however, there is still a glimmer of hope.
The Union government recently announced that the construction of the Renuka dam would be completed on a priority basis. There is also hope that work on the Kishau dam will be resumed in 2015.
Ground water reserves dwindling + tanker mafia thriving
Lets now turn to the ground water situation. In the absence of a well-managed surface water supply system, ground water has been the capital’s lifeline.
For instance, Vasant Kunj, a colony situated in the southwestern district of Delhi , was dependent solely on ground water for the first 15 years of its existence until the Sonia Vihar Water Treatment Plant became operational in 2006.
This improved both the supply and the quality of water.
Of course “improved supply” still means only an hour of daily water supply and “improved quality” still means that we buy bottled water for our drinking needs. But if you’re a Delhi-ite, you know that there’s a lot to be thankful for here. Wanting two WHOLE hours of daily water supply of DRINKABLE quality – come on! That’s just plain greedy!
So, how much of Delhi’s water supply does ground water account for anyway?
These tankers generally source water from tube wells or bore wells and sell it to residents in parched neighbourhoods at what are often exorbitant prices.
It’s the perfect business! A 100% recession proof.
Such silent mining of ground water through unregistered wells and repeated reboring to extract greater and greater quantities of water, has dramatically reduced ground water levels (water levels have fallen to 40 metres below ground level in large parts of Delhi) and deteriorated water quality.