Mumbai faces fourth water cut of 10 per cent in a decade

Updated: May 12, 2019, 07:44 IST | Chetna Yerunkar

Over a decade ago a slew of projects had been cleared to increase Mumbai's water supply - from new reservoirs to implementation of sewage treatment plants. All are still on paper

Mumbai faces fourth water cut of 10 per cent in a decade

This summer, Mumbai faces a water cut of 10 per cent, its fourth in a decade. The average rainfall that Mumbai receives every year has been steadily dropping. In 2008, we received 2,508 mm of water. Last year, that figure dropped to 2,009.45 mm. It wasn't sufficient to fill to capacity the seven lakes which store the water supplied to the city. Until May 9, the lake levels had only 15 per cent of live stock water — 2,21,265 million litres. An additional 1,70,000 million litres is in reserve which the state government has allowed us to use.

Yet, this situation could have been avoided if only the BMC and the state government had implemented their own plans. In 2008, the then state government had considered setting up desalination plants in the city. However, nothing was done. In 2016 — after the current government appointed a high power committee to look at the feasibility of the project — the plan was struck down owing to high costs and huge land usage.

In 2017, the BMC, through reduction in thefts and leakages, added 50 million litres
In 2017, the BMC, through reduction in thefts and leakages, added 50 million litres

The two plants would have converted sea water into non-potable, but usable for washing and construction purposes, adding 100 mld (million litres per day) to the city and suburbs, but MMRDA, BMC and MbPT said the high costs made it unfeasible. Construction of two reservoirs — Gargai (Wada, Palghar district) and Pinjal (Jawar, Palghar district) — has remained on paper for a decade. These would have added 1,330 mld potable water to the city's supply, thus meeting the 4,200 mld demand of the citizens.

In 2002, BMC made it mandatory for all new residential and commercial constructions above 1,000 sqm to install rainwater harvesting systems to obtain occupational certificates. In 2007, this rule was extended to buildings over 300 sqm in the city. This would have also cut the city's water demand from the lakes. However, the BMC still has no system in place to verify whether rainwater harvesting is being implemented across the city.

Corporators have been proposing that the civic administration actively start rejuvenating the wells, but many were lost under the garb of development and construction and others were taken over by the tanker mafia. The BMC also planned to use the sewerage treatment plants' recycled water to supply non-potable water but only after its completion. The civic body has not even started construction work on six of these plants. The smallest of the seven, at Colaba (which will supply 37 mld) is under construction. What the sewage treatment plants and desalination plants would have done is reduce our dependence on rainwater by 14,60,000 million litres per year. In 2017-18 we spent an average of 16.7 million litres of potable water per day on washing vehicles.

While the civic body is taking various efforts to curb leakage and theft, they have also started to clean the reservoirs and monitor levels in storage tanks across the city (ones that supply water to the pipes that come to your house), so that if there's a water shortage in a particular area, it can be immediately resolved. The city is currently reeling under a 10 per cent water cut on the total quantity it receives and a 15 per cent water cut on the duration in which it receives this. With this season being an election year, the BMC has not planned an additional water cut and will plan its next move only after June 15, once it has a better idea of the year's monsoons.

The current water available in the live stock will suffice the city for the next 45 days. While the full storage quantity of all the seven lakes is 14 lakh million litres, the current water availability is only 15 per cent of this figure. While sources in the civic body revealed that the city is not in a bad shape currently, especially with the state allowing reserve stock to be used, any delay in monsoon will affect their plans.

A senior civic official, not wishing to be named, said, "The water supply strategy for the next year is planned from October 1 to July 31, as we assume that over 2,100 mm of average rainfall will be sufficient for the city's lakes to fill and suffice the city till July, at least. But, with the monsoon falling short, we implemented the cuts early on and planned to survive without using reserve stock till June 30."

Also Read: Water cuts in Mumbai is unnecessary, say activists

Municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta had earlier said that there is no panic in the city regarding water supply, but citizens need to use water cautiously. He said, "Water levels are being monitored regularly by the Hydraulic department." However, Sitaram Shelar, convenor, Pani Haq Samiti, said that the problem lies in distribution management. "The maintenance of wells, which are getting covered under the garb of development, thus resulting in reduction of groundwater table is an issue the BMC is not taking care of."

The BMC had awarded contracts for Water Distribution and Improvement Programme in 2014 and the project was to be completed by 2019. But the pilot project in H west ward (Bandra) and T ward (Mulund) are yet to be completed, thus delaying the entire R240 crore project. It would have provided equitable distribution and effective management along with assuring 24x7 supply. However, it is still far from completion. In Mumbai, there are 18 tanker — filling points, which are used for filling water in tankers. All these points have to be regulated, but corporators have been crying foul that this is not being done.

Also Read: How to choke a wetland in Mumbai

Water cut that Mumbai is facing in quantity

No. of times in the last 10 years that we have faced a 10% water cut


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