The Cauvery verdict: Should Chennai worry?

The reduced water allocation for Tamil Nadu in the interstate Cauvery water-sharing dispute has caused a lot of worry among farmers in the state's agricultural belt, but will the ripples be felt in Chennai too?

There has been an uproar in the state, after the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on February 16th in the centuries-long water sharing dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. In the latest, the apex court bench has ordered Karnataka to release 177.25 tmcft water to Tamil Nadu, as opposed to 192 tmcft awarded in the earlier Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal.

Expectedly, farmers from the districts, where groundwater is already running low, are worried that agricultural produce will take a big hit following the reduction of the Cauvery share. But will the verdict also affect those living in Chennai?

The problem is interlinked. One among the four reservoirs of Chennai, Veeranam lake is solely dependent on the Cauvery water released from Mettur dam. District Convener of Tamil Nadu Farmers Association, A P Ravindran said, “Veeranam lake is the reservoir that goes dry first, thus resulting in water scarcity. There is only 43 feet of water in Veeranam now. Can you imagine how the summer would be?”

According to a spokesperson from the Chennai Metro Water department, Greater Chennai requires 650 MLD  of water every day, of which 180 MLD is currently drawn from Veeranam lake. However, he was not overly worried as he said, “The inflow to Veeranam lake has been good. We have other sources (like quarries) and will have to explore them once it goes dry.”

What this judgment has done, however, is that it has opened up deeper discussions on groundwater. While the aquifer in the Cauvery delta districts was considered while arriving at the share of water for Tamil Nadu, the same had not been applied to Karnataka, which had its declining groundwater capacity, said water resource expert, J Saravanan. He also explained how the judgment had not made any references to the ‘distress sharing’ mechanism, during droughts and poor monsoon.

Long term implications

But now that the sharing has been fixed, priorities must be redefined. Jayashree Venkatesan of Care Earth Trust feels that the small rivers in the state should be given enough focus. Rather than depending on erratic sources like Cauvery, Jayshree says that lower order streams like Bhavani and Noyyal River should be protected, to ensure water security in Tamil Nadu. “Cauvery, as it reaches Tamil Nadu is fed by a number of smaller rivers, originating from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. But unfortunately, there is not much of a focus on the smaller rivers.”

The permanent solution to averting a water crisis is to protect the water bodies, say environmentalists. “Fundamental understanding of waterbodies is necessary to come up with specific interventions. As citizens, we should realise that the fresh water is a limited resource and it should be carefully utilised. Residents should take up all possible ways to harvest, restore and recycle water. Conservation should begin at home,” Jayashree mentioned.

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