On May 23, the New Delhi Municipal Council released a which stated that water shortage in the national capital had hit areas under the council. Several localities such as Lutyens received only 50-60 percent of normal potable water supply in the last 10 days.
Among the most impacted areas are Kotla Mubarakpur, West Patel Nagar, Bawana, Chilla Village, Begumpur, Bhalswa, Sanjay Camp, Laxmi Bai Nagar and Vivekanand Camp.
In Chanakyapuri’s Sanjay Camp, drinking water is a luxury. It’s one of the seven percent of Delhi’s unauthorised colonies where households do not have piped water.
“Fights over water are common,” said Ramkali, who has been living in the area for three decades. And yet she’s lucky, she said, because she lives near a tap connected to a tank in an embassy nearby.
Many residents here, like Mohammad Hannan, a cosmetics vendor, schedule their lives around the daily wait for the NDMC’s water tankers. But the tankers don’t follow a regular schedule.
“From the last two-three days, they have been coming late,” said Hannan, who has lived here since 1990. “Sometimes, they don’t come. On weekends, they are usually late.”
Dying water sources
According to the Delhi Economic Survey, Delhi depends on neighbouring states to meet around 90 percent of its drinking water demand. In 1994, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh signed a memorandum of understanding to share their water. The Yamuna, a major raw water source, enters Delhi from the adjoining state of Haryana.
The Delhi Jal Board, the city’s water production and supply agency gets water from various sources. According to data accessed by this reporter, 91 percent of raw water is obtained from surface sources like the Yamuna and Ganga rivers, and the remaining nine percent from underground sources.
According to the Delhi Jal Board, Delhi’s population of 23 million has a demand of 1,200-1,380 million gallons per day. Of this, the Jal Board supplies approximately 950 million gallons per day.
The Delhi government has estimated that the demand for water will reach 1,505 million gallons per day this year, while the Observer Research Foundation predicts a demand of 1,746 million gallons per day by 2031.
The crisis is looming large.
On May 23, the water level at Yamuna was lower than the average normal of 674.5 feet for this time of the year.
Visited Wazirabad Barrage to inspect raw water discharged by Haryana. Haryana is not releasing Delhi's fair share of water. Yamuna's water level has fallen from 674.5ft to 669ft i.e. a fall of 5.5ft (above sea lvl). Hence, water production in our WTP is reduced by 60-70 MGD. pic.twitter.com/uxCzDnR0GG— Satyendar Jain (@SatyendarJain) May 17, 2022
In response, the Delhi Jal Board issued advisories to residents to store sufficient quantities of water.
The Yamuna river is not the only source of water to witness a drop in levels. Levels at the Wazirabad pond dropped to 668.3 ft – the lowest this year – as against the normal of 674.5 feet. With this drop, the Jal Board’s daily supply has fallen by around 65 million gallons per day.
“If we do not get raw water then how will we manage the supply of water?” an official at the Delhi Jal Board said, on condition of anonymity. “Yamuna, our main source, has totally dried up. The water level at Wazirabad has decreased, and now we are trying to divert water from the Munak canal toward Wazirabad to keep production up in the Wazirabad treatment plant.”
Manoj Misra, an environmentalist and convenor of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, blamed authorities for mismanagement.
He said, “First of all, let us understand that there is no crisis or lack of water supplies in Delhi for it gets water from the Yamuna, Ganga and Satluj system...It is a huge case of mismanagement of available water by the city authorities, where almost 45-50 percent of water disappears during distribution.”
Akash Vashishtha, a Delhi-based environmentalist, said, “This is a three-decade-old problem. Unfortunately, both ruling and former dispensations have failed to address this problem.”
Decreasing groundwater levels
Delhi’s groundwater is also on the verge of exhaustion. According to the Delhi Economic Survey, excessive withdrawal of groundwater has had water levels sink to 20-30 metres below the ground level in many places.
While rainwater harvesting in the state has been made mandatory for houses which are more than 500 square metres, things are different on the ground. Some builders install cheap rainwater harvesting systems which survive only for a few months.
The Jal Board official said, “We have prescribed the unit and its design. One unit which is built according to our norm survives for more than 10-15 years...The department is now giving a rebate on water bills for those residences which have made the harvesting system according to DJB’s norms.”
But that is just one part of the problem. A high concentration of fluoride has also been found in the groundwater, as well as high levels of salinity – the latter more so in the west, southwest and northwest parts of the capital, according to blockwise assessment of groundwater by the Central Ground Water Board.
With a high concentration of heavy metals, manganese and iron, the groundwater is not fit for drinking in some parts of the city.
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