City of 1000 Tanks unveils vision for a water-rich Chennai

City of 1000 Tanks has broken ground on the Water Balance model with a pilot at Little Flower Convent. The aim is to make Chennai water-rich.

City of 1000 Tanks intends to develop a Water Balance Model across the city by collecting rainwater, treating wastewater and runoff pollution with decentralized Nature-Based Solutions, and by recharging the underground aquifer to make Chennai water-rich.

City of 1000 Tanks has an immediate, midterm and long-term vision for Chennai’s water security. Based on a unique Water Balance Model the project will harvest rainwater and treat wastewater and runoff pollution before recharging into the underground aquifer. This is achieved by people-friendly and culturally appropriate planning, made possible through aesthetically beautiful nature-based systems. The project will be rooted within the local context and will engage collectively with residents, local businesses, institutions and government bodies.

Chennai is at the risk of running out of water in the next decade.

The project will contribute to the prevention of droughts by increasing groundwater reserves while simultaneously mitigating risks associated with high frequency floods and sewage pollution. This project intends to fix supply-side issues by creating water retention and supply capabilities of 200-250 MLD (Million Litres per Day) in the first two phases of the project (out of the current 1,580 MLD urban demand).

chennai water tanker
Residents of Pushpa Nagar housing board fill their share of water from the tankers.

The ‘City of 1000 Tanks’ team consists of international and local experts that have developed a strategy to minimize and eliminate the wastage of Chennai’s most precious resource – water. The team members are: OOZE Architects, Madras Terrace, Care Earth Trust, IIT Madras, Biomatrix Water, IRCDUC, Uravugal Social Welfare Trust, Paperman Foundation, and Goethe Institute, among others.

Read more: Where does the water in your tap come from?

Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities Asia

The City of 1000 Tanks was established through Water as Leverage – a bilateral program spanning across three Asian countries, namely India, Indonesia and Bangladesh. The project was an initiative of Honourable Mr. Henk Ovink,the Special Envoy for International Water Affairs of the Kingdom of The Netherlands and the Government of the Netherlands (commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and executed by in partnership with the city of Chennai,UN Habitat and 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), supported by the UN High Level Panel on Water.

The Water Balance Pilot for a water rich city

A Chennai-wide water balance model will be achieved through an incremental implementation process. Starting with pilot projects, then upscaling to flagship projects before effective city-wide implementation. Each upscaling stage is an opportunity to build capacity and improve performance in order to demonstrate inclusive implementation for a water rich Chennai. City of 1,000 Tanks has already broken ground with its first ongoing pilot at Little Flower Convent in Mambalam, Chennai.

The Water Balance Pilot will be a proof-of-concept of the scalable Water Balance Model. It will further demonstrate a Chennai-specific implementation of all key elements within the project such as septic tanks, constructed wetlands, bioswales and detention parks. The Water Balance Pilot will be up-scaled to the various City of 1,000 Tanks Flagship projects implementing and ensuring water security at increasing scales while leaving no one behind.

Read more: How ‘nature-based’ transformation of Mylapore tank area could ease Chennai’s water problems

Ongoing campaigns

While being on-ground, the City of 1000 Tanks team is also steadily expanding its reach on-line and in-person. Local engagement, awareness and participation are essential to the City of 1000 Tanks implementation style. Since March 2021, we have been implementing a water literacy programme for children from informal and low-income settlements across Chennai and as a result over 150 children from 10 settlements have been identified as potential ‘water ambassadors’ who will raise awareness related to water conservation in their areas.

Simultaneously, since 14 July 2021, we have launched a social media campaign. Here we have published a combination of completed activities with designs created for future projects. Additionally, we discuss the past, present and future of water in Chennai through a 6-part animation film series prepared in Tamil and English. The Social Media Campaign and ‘Water ambassidors’programme of the City of 1000 Tanks are funded by the Goethe-Institut /Max Mueller Bhavan Chennai through its Excellency Project.

About City of 1000 Tanks Team

Ooze Architects & Urbanists

Ooze Architects & Urbanists, based in Rotterdam, is an international design practice operating between the fields of urbanism, architecture and art.

With an emphasis on a collaborative design process that encourages the

co-development of ideas among stakeholders, the firm works internationally for municipalities, property developers, and arts and cultural institutions.

Madras Terrace Architectural Works

Madras Terrace is an architecture firm, based in Chennai that engages with architectural design work, construction projects, interior design projects and renovation works. With a strong emphasis on responsive architecture,

the firm creates and designs residential projects, using sustainable and eco-friendly techniques and materials.

Care Earth Trust

Care Earth Trust is a technical, non-governmental organization working towards the conservation of biodiversity. Based in Chennai, the organization undertakes policy research, ecological research and management, environmental education and capacity building, evaluation and monitoring, and animal welfare activities. The organization is also the recipient of several awards including the Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar (2009) and the TiECON Social Entrepreneurship Award (2014).

Biomatrix Water

Michael Shaw, representing Biomatrix water, is an engineer by training and has been involved in all phases of the development and implementation of natural wastewater treatment systems since 1989, working with Ocean Arks International, Living Technologies, Ecovillage International and now Biomatrix Water.

Together with John Todd, he is the author of two wastewater treatment patents. Michael is a founding partner in Biomatrix and brings his extensive experience in the field and passion for sustainable infrastructure to engineer robust and powerful treatment systems.

IIT Madras

Indian Institute of Technology Madras is one among the foremost institutes of national importance in higher technological education, basic and applied research.


Vanessa Peter is a Policy Researcher at the Information and Resource Centre for the Deprived Urban Communities, based in Chennai. In her previous role as Programme Manager at ActionAid Chennai, Vanessa undertook several campaigns and activities and facilitated several city level plans and strategies to highlight and address the problems faced by the urban homeless.

Uravugal Social Welfare Trust

Dr.A.D.Nundiyny is the founder and Managing director for Uravugal Sustainable Development Trust. She is a Senior Sociologist who has wide range of experience in the field of social and community level participation, preparation of social assessment reports, conducting public consultation meetings, preparing resettlement action plans, planning community welfare system and livelihood support system. She has successfully completed many projects and is also involved in training community level individuals, officers and other stakeholders on social matters, land and water conservation and other related matters. She has been consulting as a social expert in various world bank, Asian development bank and Kfw funded projects.

Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan

The Goethe Institut is the official cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany. The institute serves as the point of contact between Germany and nations across the world through the promotion of the German language and by fostering international cultural cooperation.The Goethe Institut in Chennai serves not only as a centre for German language training and examination but also houses several plays, seminars, workshops, among other knowledge dissemination activities. In 2016, Goethe Institut organized the Chennai Water Forum. They continue to organize numerous events on water and culture under a project titled ‘Embrace our Rivers’.

Paperman Foundation

The Paperman Foundation envisions a world without landfills and has forged networks with several informal and formal waste collectors in order to recycle waste collected at more than 5,000 collection points in the city. The foundation’s initiatives include the creation of public awareness, an on-demand recycling platform, the management of processing units in partnership with various state governments, the employment of turnkey contractors for setting up recycling units, and other ancillary services.

 IHE Delft

The IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, based in the Netherlands, is the largest international graduate water education facility in the world. The mission of IHE Delft is to contribute to the education and training of professionals, to expand the knowledge base through research and to build the capacity of sector organizations, knowledge centers and other institutions active in the fields of water, the environment and infrastructure in developing countries and countries in transition. Since its establishment the Institute has played an instrumental role in developing the capacities of water sector organizations in the Global South, not least by strengthening the efforts of other universities and research centres to increase the knowledge and skills of professionals working in the water sector.

(This article is based on a Press Release by City of 1000 Tanks and has been republished here with minimal edits.)

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