Water woes: A wake-up call for Mumbaikars

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water,” said W H Auden, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.

I had reason to recall Auden’s profound statement as I went through social media posts after Middle Vaitarna, one of the seven reservoirs that provide water to Mumbai, started overflowing on Thursday. “What a relief,” said many ecstatic Mumbaikars, who were subjected to 20 per cent water cuts in the past fortnight in view of depleting levels of the city’s water stock. They felt relieved in anticipation that there would be no water cuts henceforth.

This year’s monsoon, which, in its initial stage, did not have adequate force to fulfil the city’s annual needs, did do a favour in its ‘returning’ phase. Of Mumbai’s seven dams, five — Middle Vaitarna, Upper Vaitarna, Tansa, Tulsi and Modak Sagar — were almost full till Friday evening, Vihar and Bhatsa were still short of their full capacity. The total shortfall of useful water stock on Saturday, as compared to the same date (September 19) last year, was 3,86,684 million litres.

This shortfall, if it persists in the months to come, is likely to force the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to regulate the supply till the next monsoon. The city’s current demand is 4,250 mld (million litres per day) as against the 3,750 mld that is supplied from the seven dams (if they get filled to capacity). Given erratic weather patterns and the growing demand, the city’s water woes are expected to increase further. As per BMC’s assessment, the demand will go up to 6,680 MLD in 2041.

Responsible Mumbaikars and a ‘dutiful’ administration can play a big role in conserving whatever water we get through pipelines and rainfall. A Mumbaikar learns the worth of water only when the taps go dry. Inequitable distribution, leakages and water theft (courtesy a nexus between officials and agents who facilitate illegal connections) are squarely blamed for this problem. But do we think, even once, about how a little effort on our part could make a lot of difference?

It is high time that the people who put the entire onus on the government and the BMC for our water woes, share some blame as well. Just think of the water we waste on washing our cars and flushing toilets. Daily consumption by one urban family for such activities may suffice for the entire week’s consumption of a family in a parched village, which could be 500km or 50 km from your housing complex — say, for instance, a villager’s home in Thane district. Imagine how much we can conserve if we harvest rainwater. We, the educated and resourceful lot, can definitely do it.

In this column on June 22, 2015 (‘What villages can teach Mumbai about saving water’), I had said how restless we get when the BMC starts calculating its depleting stock in reservoirs and the days remaining ahead of the Monsoon. That week, the dams’ catchment areas had not received as much rainfall the rest of the state. I had also said what would happen if the catchment areas don’t get enough rain to fill our dams this year and thereafter. I also gave the example of drought-affected villagers, who have been making efforts to conserve water.

The Jalayukta Shivar scheme, funded both by the government and local residents, has started showing results. Thanks to the scheme, heavy rains in the state’s parched areas are expected to help distressed people. I’m told the government may soon start a scheme, suited best for the cities, on the lines of the CM’s flagship programme.

Fortunately, the government and BMC aren’t sitting idle. It was good to see how efficiently the BMC has started acting tough against water mafia.

The BMC and state government have revived a proposal to bring in water from the Koyna dam which releases 67 tmc (thousand million cubic feet) to the seas near Chiplun in Konkan after generating electricity. Last week, the Centre gave in-principle nod to the Rs 2,238 crore plan and showed willingness to fund it as a national project. Water will be brought through a 130-km pipeline, which will also benefit other towns in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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