Water crisis in Delhi: Several parts of Capital left high and dry

Updated on Jun 10, 2022 03:06 AM IST

According to DJB, the water levels of Yamuna at Wazirabad went down to record low of 667.6ft against the normal level of 674.5ft. This is just 0.6ft above the lowest recorded level of 667ft at the Wazirabad barrage since 1965

People collect drinking water from a tanker at Sanjay Camp in New Delhi on Thursday. (ANI)
People collect drinking water from a tanker at Sanjay Camp in New Delhi on Thursday. (ANI)
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Capital is in the grip of a water crisis in the middle of a heatwave, with many parts of the city, including some in the central Lutyens’ area, and several upmarket south Delhi colonies, left high and dry.

The reason: depletion of the pond level of Yamuna at Wazirabad Water Works and reduction in the quantum of raw water released by Haryana into the Yamuna, according to a Delhi Jal Board statement on Thursday. The statement added that, as a result, water production has been affected at seven of nine DJB water treatment plants at Wazirabad, Chandrawal, Okhla, Haiderpur-1 and 2, Bawana, Nangloi and Dwarka.

DJB officials said that barring East Delhi, water supply was hit across north, northwest, west and parts of south Delhi, as well as the Delhi Cantonment.

According to DJB, the water levels of Yamuna at Wazirabad went down to record low of 667.6ft against the normal level of 674.5ft. This is just 0.6ft above the lowest recorded level of 667ft at the Wazirabad barrage since 1965.

The result: inadequate supply of water, which, when it happens, is also patchy.

The Delhi government’s economic survey 2021-22 stated that the total requirement of water in the Capital was around 1,380 million gallons a day (5,223 million litres) in 2021, based on the norm of 60 gallon per capita per day (GPCD); the government has targeted a water supply of 998 MGD under its summer action plan 2022. The higher demand supply gap translates into more reliance on ground water, bottled can water and water tankers. Data from the socioeconomic survey of Delhi 2020 shows that around 7.7% houses in Delhi use bottled can water while another 5.04% get water access through water tankers.

Based on those numbers, Delhi faces a demand-supply gap of over 380 million gallons of water every day. That may have just gotten worse. According to DJB, the gap may have widened to 465MGD over the past weeks.

And the situation is unlikely to improve, according to DJB officials who said that instead of 1,133 cusecs of water from the Yamuna, CLC and DSB -- the city’s three main sources of raw water -- Delhi is receiving only 949 cusecs.

DJB vice-chairperson Saurabh Bharadwaj said the water level in the Yamuna at Wazirabad is just six inches, when it should ideally be more than seven feet.

“We are witnessing record low levels of water in the Yamuna. The river has dried up as Haryana in not releasing water. We have thought about approaching courts but so far, we are hopeful that communications and dialogue with Haryana will resolve the situation,” he added.

DJB, in its official statement said that the water supply will remain affected till sufficient water is released by Haryana in Delhi Sub-Branch and Carrer Lined Canals and the Yamuna.

Meanwhile, across Delhi, people are scrambling for water.

Anil Pershad, a resident of Chandni Chowk’s Chunamal Haveli, said people in the area have been without water for the last seven days. “The mornings are harrowing to wake up early to arrange few buckets of water. The helplines don’t respond and we are forced to purchase canned water for meeting drinking water demand.”

The situation is only marginally better in Defence Colony.

Maj (retd) Ranjit Singh, who heads Defence Colony Welfare Association, said that parts of the area are either getting very little water or that the supplied water is smelly or dirty. “This situation has prevailed for the last 10 days. Many pockets of the colony are affected,” he added.

Laxmi Narayan, who heads the Jangpura Bhogal RWA said the combination of high temperatures and irregular water supply are making people suffer.

And in the western part of the city, where a by-election is scheduled to happen later this month, Rakesh Sachdeva, a resident of Naraina, said that water is a key poll issue. “For the last 5-7 days there has been no supply. Boring wells is not permitted and this water problem has been affecting the area for several years. Just see the temperatures outside, it is inhuman to deprive people from basic water supply.”

The sinking of borewells is not permitted in most parts of the city, which has been moving towards a water flashpoint. Over the past month, DJB has issued at least seven water advisories to general public warning against imminent water shortage.

And it’s the same story every year -- with a new record being set with every passing year. Last year on 12th July , DJB reported the water levels at Wazirabad Barrage at 667 ft, the lowest levels recorded since 1965. That number will likely be breached soon.

In July 2021, the DJB moved the Supreme Court asking the top court to initiate contempt proceedings against top Haryana government officials for not following a February 1996 order of the apex court to maintain the water level at the Wazirabad reservoir at full capacity to serve the drinking water needs of the Capital. The top court junked the plea and directed the jal board to hold further consultations and negotiations with Haryana government.

Over the last month, Delhi has blamed neighbouring state Haryana for its water supply shortage. Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar retorted that Haryana is currently releasing more than 1,049 cusecs of water to Delhi and the state can’t deprive its own people of water and give Delhi more than their legitimate share. “I promise that the day Punjab gives us our legitimate share, Haryana will increase Delhi’s current water share,” Khattar argued.

“Besides Yamuna, the flow of water in CLC (carrier lined canal and DSB Delhi Sub branch canal that carry water from Haryana to Delhi are also fluctuating. The condition continues to be same on Friday,” a DJB official said.

Water from Haryana, via Yamuna and the two canals, constitutes almost 40% of the raw water entering Delhi and is governed by the 1994 agreement signed between Yamuna’s riparian states. A quarter (25%) of the water that Delhi receives comes from Uttar Pradesh through upper Ganga canal, 22% comes from Bhakra Nangal in Punjab, while the remaining 13% is sourced from subsurface sources such as tubewells.

Besides raw water availability issues, Delhi’s summer action plan for water supply also faces a frequent problem of too much ammonia in the water, or a high level of pollutants, or filters in treatment plants getting choked by silt and floating material. Data from DJB shows that 22 ammonia spike episodes spread over 134 days were registered in 2021 when ammonia levels were above 1ppm. “The last ammonia spike was reported on 17 April when ammonia levels in the Yamuna reached five times above the maximum treatable limit of 0.9ppm,” said a second official from DJB water treatment and quality control department.

Atul Goel, who head URJA, a collective group of RWAs in the city said water supply is being received at low pressure. “We should develop enough reservoirs. Back system should be developed for such contingency and we cant totally depend on the flow of the river. Political blame is seen every time such an episode is witnessed. Pollution control boards should crack down on industries polluting the river water,” he added.

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