How people and Dravidian Parties scripted water scarcity in Chennai

Thanks to Kaggle Grand Master Sudalai Rajkumar(SRK) for kindling thoughts to create this blog. Data related stuff is from his article.

Chennai is entirely dependent on groundwater resources to meet its water needs. Groundwater resources in Chennai are replenished by rainwater and the city’s average rainfall is 1,276 mm.

Following are the major sources of water supply for Chennai city.

  1. Four major reservoirs in Red Hills, Cholavaram, Poondi and Chembarambakkam
  2. Cauvery water from Veeranam lake
  3. Desalination plants at Nemelli and Minjur
  4. Aquifers in Neyveli, Minjur, and Panchetty
  5. Tamaraipakkam, Poondi and Minjur Agriculture wells
  6. CMWSSB Boreweels
  7. Retteri lake

The above one is also roughly the descending order in which the contribution is made to overall freshwater requirements of the city. In addition to this, people make use of bore wells and private tankers for their water needs.

Currently, Chennai is facing an acute water shortage due to a shortage of rainfall for the past three years (and we had one of the worst floods in history the year before that!). As a result, the water in these resources is depleting along with the groundwater level.

Graphs showing the water level in four major reservoirs:

Graph showing the combined water level in all 4 reservoirs:

  • Summing up all the water availability from four reservoirs, we can see that the water levels reached almost zero thrice (2004, 2017 and 2019)
  • Generally, after the rainfall, the reservoirs used to get replenished to about 10K Mcft until 2012 which is not the case afterward due to the lack of rainfall.
  • Only during the (in)famous Chennai floods of 2015, it has reached the 10K level after 2012.
  • 2017 is similar to 2019 in terms of depletion of water availability but the levels reached close to 0 during the end of august unlike now where the levels reached at the beginning of June itself.

Now let’s check the rainfall:

Annual rainfall:

  • Looks like the city gets some rains in the month of June, July, August, and September due to the southwest monsoon.
  • Major rainfall happens during October and November of every year which is due to North-east monsoon.
  • During the initial years, rain from north-east monsoon is much higher than south-west monsoon. But seems like last few years, they both are similar (reduction in rains from north-east monsoon).

Let’s look at the water level at the start of summer every year:

This clearly indicates that there was not enough water in the reservoirs at the beginning of summer 2019 to cope up with the needs of the city. In fact, this is the second-worst level after 2004 (Also it is important to note that the city has grown a lot bigger from 2004 to 2019).

The city has just had 1000 mcft of water at the beginning of the summer which is much worse than the 2017 levels of 1500 mcft. So just by looking at the very low water level, the water scarcity could have been forecasted without even computing the consumption level per day.

Current sources of water in and around the city:

Now let’s discuss the causes of the water scarcity:

Some 70 years back after independence, 19 major lakes


· Then: 1130 Hectares

· Now: 645 Hectares


· Then: 390 TMC

· Now: 250 TMC

Where have they gone?

For the last 10 years, the average budget allocated to be spent on maintenance of water bodies is “1800 crores”

Where have they gone?

Going back to the past:

There was a lake called “Long Tank” which was 3 miles by 2 miles in dimension. It was predominantly the biggest lake inside Chennai during the 20th century. Is it still alive? The answer is “Big NO”. Where is it? Mambalam, Mylapore, Panagal Park, Nungambakkam was built over it.

Ex-Chief minister Dr. Karunanidhi made “Valluvar Kottam” over it. If it was there in 2015 Chennai would have not been flooded.

Don’t forget:

- Siruseri Sipcot was a sandy fresh water recharge land before Dr.Karunanidhi industrialized it.

- Sholinganallur IT Tech park was built over a large channel and was inaugurated by J.Jayalalitha.

- Loyola College was built on a lake.

- Koyambedu had a Suzhal Lake above which the Suzhal bridge is built by DMK

- Do you know Moore market? It was built over waterbody named “Allikulam”. It was inaugurated by MGR.

- Out of frustration that Moore market was built over a water body, you can file a case at High Court. Unfortunately, that building is also built over the same waterbody.

- In Anna Nagar, There was a lake named “Pattaravakkam Lake”. It is crying under an over footbridge inaugurated by Jayalalitha.

- Medavakkam Police station was built on a lake.

- All areas having names like Pakkam, Vakkam, Pettai, Eri had a waterbody with them.

- Everything was exploited in the name of development by the parties which ruled us till date.

- Kodambakkam, Virugambakkam, Mambalam everything had a lake. All they have now is a “Lake View Street”

In my view, Every developmental action taken by the government was without any “environmental impact assessment”.

We would have heard people saying the deluge during 2015 in Chennai was due to encroachments in water bodies. The sad truth is many encroachments are mostly government-built housing boards and government buildings.

A small instance: let’s look at Ambattur, Retteri, Korattur lake scenario

In 1954 the total area of the lake was 1140 acres

In 1990 Housing board development department under Ex. Chief Minister MGR, started building homes between the lake.

The lake split into two Ambattur lake and Aiyapakkam lake

- Ambattur lake size — 400 acres

- Aiyapakkam lake size — 80 acres

During 2014–15 then CM J.Jayalalitha introduced a scheme for Ambattur- Korattur- Retteri lakes combined. The scheme was announced for 110 crores where boating facilities were also announced.

After that in the RTI(Right To Information) filed by Arapor Iyakkam, in 2014–2015 nearly 20 crores has been spent on the replenishment of lake.

Then in 2015–2016 another 13 crores has been spent.

Then in 2017–2018 another out of 13 crores, 8.5 crores was spent then another 5 crores has been spent. But environmentalist and local people in that areas say that they have never seen a heavy vehicle entering those lake.

It acute water shortage in Chennai, this lake had water, the fact is all domestic and Ambattur estate grey water is getting mixed making them unusable.

Metro water tested whether the water can be used for the city’s requirement but declared it unfit.

In another RTI filed asking for the storage capacity of the lake , they got the number as 7.5 TMC

While the largest lake in KTC(kancheepuram, Thiruvallur, Chennai) Sembarambakkam’s full storage capacity is 3.45 TMC.

Which means the information is wrong. That is degree the government is careless.

While among the 3 lakes Korattur lake has gone dry, its size is 610 acres out of which 50 acres has been encroached


It has been split into 2 lakes by Calcutta main road which was during congress period and DMK didn’t oppose it.

In addition to the misery a Pumping station has been built inside the lake by the government itself.

You can ask “Ivlo pesuriye…Nee romba olunga?”(are you perfect?)

1. Yes, people too are responsible for the present scenario.

2. People throw garbage full of plastics and many more into empty land and water bodies without even thinking of where it goes.

3. The greediness of people encouraged them to buy land at a low rate which would be sold by local body elected people.

4. Have we ever worry about where the sewage/grey water from our home goes? it reaches these freshwater resources.

5. People never have thrift over water. Still, there are some people who think “the more water they use to wash face, the fairer they become. chi no words on them.

So what would be the solution:

Linking of the rivers(Nathineer Inaipu): It’s against nature and it results in seismic effect which will make things worse. “A great slap to budding politicians and existing scientific politicians talking about it”.

Desalination Plant:

1. Minjur Seawater Desalination Plant cost 515 crores.

2. Nemmeli Seawater Desalination Plant cost 533 crores

3. Next one is getting built-in near Nemmeli at 1259.5 crores

Total 350 MLD per day, while Chennai needs 985 MLD per day.

With the growing population, rather than investing a hefty amount in building these desalination plant for this scarce amount of water, desilting existing water bodies can store more water than this.

The revival of water bodies:

This actually is the best possible solution that can be taken by the government to be sustainable enough with the growing population. Our ancestors did the below for water management and were considered as one of the best in the world.

River > Lakes (Yeri) > KaNmai > KaraNai > Thaangal > Yenthal > OoraNi > KuLam > Kuttai.

Rainwater harvesting: This is the best solution that can be done by the people to maintain the water table. Every household should be implementing RWH. This was probably one and only proper step was taken by J.Jayalalitha for water management.


and many more which I lost in the process. Will update once I recover it.