As Cyclone Gaja moves away from Chennai, experts worry city won’t get enough water

Chennai’s main water storage units are only about 10% full, and Gaja might not bring in enough rains.
As Cyclone Gaja moves away from Chennai, experts worry city won’t get enough water
As Cyclone Gaja moves away from Chennai, experts worry city won’t get enough water

Local administrations of the delta districts of Tamil Nadu are working on a war-footing to prepare for Cyclone Gaja's landfall between Pamban and Cuddalore on Thursday. With the cyclone moving further south, the capital city of Chennai will receive, at the most, moderate rains, according to new forecasts.

Initially, Chennai was expected to experience heavy rains on Thursday and Friday, with the cyclone predicted to make landfall between the capital city and Nagapattinam. But with its trajectory changing, experts are worried that Chennai might not get enough rains to meet its water needs. A quick glance at the reservoir levels show that the city's main water storage units are only about 10% full.

According to the officials at the Metro Water board, of the total 11 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) storage of four main reservoirs, only occupied 1.6 tmcft of water is available. Poondi reservoir currently has 503 million cubic feet (mcft) of water as opposed 924 mcft water that it had last year on the same day. Meanwhile, Cholavaram carries 22 mcft of water as opposed to 587 mcft last year. The Redhills reservoir has 953 mcft of water while it had 1410 mcft last year, and Chembarambakkam has 184 mcft compared to last year's 1388 mcft. This means that the current levels of water in these reservoirs, is only 38% of last year. 

Experts and weather bloggers agree that this situation is indeed worrisome.

A retired Metro board authority who spoke to TNM on the condition of anonymity, stated, "Our position is very critical. Ideally Chennai would need 1100 million litres of water, going by the population. But we can manage with 650 million litres if we factor in lowered requirements for children and elderly. Currently, we don't even have that. Supply from desalination is 200 million litres, from wells we get about 100 million litres and Veeranam ground water is another 100 million litres. For the rest of it, we depend on rain water. The city usually averaged about 30-40 cm rainfall, which is enough to meet its needs."

According to Srikanth, co-founder of weather blogging site Chennai Rains, the city will see moderate rainfall of about 5-10 cms between November 15 and 17.

"Chennai definitely requires rains and we have a 50% deficit in reservoirs. Gaja will not bring too much rain to Chennai and even the wind speeds are expected to be only 40-60 km/hour," he says.

But there is still hope for the city as far as the rain forecast is concerned.

"The next disturbance is coming from the Andaman island side. If it stays at the latitude of Karaikal, we will not get much rain. But if it comes to Pondicherry, then rain is likely," explain Srikanth.

Meanwhile, weather enthusiast Pradeep John, known as the 'Tamil Nadu weatherman' says even Gaja could bring in decent rainfall to the city.

"It is too early to tell how much rainfall Gaja will bring to Chennai. Just one or two heavy spells is sufficient to take care of water needs. And so far we cannot completely rule out heavy spells for Chennai," he says. “The cyclone will bring a good spell on November 15 and then later on 16 and 17 you can still see rainfall due to pull effect," he adds. 

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