Tamil Nadu’s Namakkal has some solutions for India’s rising water woes

Rooftop collection systems, percolation tanks and check dams were constructed to capture rainwater and replenish the groundwater table

By Shivani Chaturvedi
Published: Friday 30 June 2023
Representative photo: iStock.

Tamil Nadu’s Namakkal district could offer significant lessons to the country to cope with water crises. The district, with a population of 1.7 million, successfully addressed its water scarcity challenges and became the second-best district in India in terms of groundwater availability.

In Union Jal Shakti Ministry’s annual ranking, Namakkal achieved second place in the conservation and management category for the year 2022. The ranking was announced on May 17, 2023.

With its strategies, the district has gone ahead and solved its groundwater problem, while for the state capital — Chennai — there is still a lot left to do to save its natural water.

Also read: Water-wisdom for climate change: We must become much more efficient with every drop

“In 2022, various water resources conservation activities, lakes, rivers, springs protection and reconstruction works were carried out by the district administration in five municipalities, 19 town panchayats and 322 village Panchayats across the district,” according to a statement issued by Namakkal district administration.

The district administration’s data on average water level for the past five years states that for 116 dug wells, the average water level was 10.35 metres below ground level (mbgl) in January 2018.

In the following year, it was 11.48 mbgl in January. In January 2020, it came down to 9.57 mbgl; in 2021, it was 9.82 mbgl; 6 mbgl in 2022.

For the past five years, the groundwater level for pre-monsoon was 8.7 mbgl, and for post-monsoon, it was 6.9 mbgl, according to data provided by Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board.

Replenishment efforts

The district’s comprehensive approach, involving community participation, rainwater harvesting, sustainable agriculture, efficient water management systems and robust policies, has yielded tangible results. The district also focussed on creating artificial recharge structures, said Senthil Kumar S, assistant executive engineer, Namakkal Water Resources Department.

The eastern part of the district is covered by Kolli Hills, which is also the source of a small river. And the western side is highlands, dependent on rainwater; this area is generally water scarce.

In 2021-22, the district administration, with various stakeholders, including the water resources department, forests and non-profits, set up a comprehensive plan to deal with the situation.

They started locating check dams and ponds in rechargeable areas. The district turned to a traditional water harvesting practice: It implemented widespread rainwater harvesting systems across residential and public spaces (Tamil Nadu has its success story regarding rainwater harvesting schemes). 

Rooftop collection systems, percolation tanks and check dams were constructed to capture rainwater and replenish the groundwater table. 

These efforts have significantly reduced the reliance on unsustainable sources and helped recharge aquifers. Rooftop harvesting was encouraged in over 200 thousand buildings, including schools, public buildings and private structures.

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River rejuvenation — restoring rivers’ natural flow impeded due to pollution, waste dumping and encroachment — and canal desilting was undertaken. About 1,400 km of minor streams, rivers, as well as 49 tanks, were rejuvenated. Encroachments spread over 110 acres along waterbodies across the district were removed.

Sewerage cleaning was undertaken over nearly 500 km and a sewerage network of around 24.72 km was created. Seven sewage treatment plants were proposed under the state government’s Nadanthaai Vaazhi Cauvery scheme and a water quality monitoring station was built across the Cauvery River to monitor pollution.

Namakkal also invested in modernising its water infrastructure and incorporating efficient water management systems to minimise wastage.

The district implemented supervisory control and data acquisition systems to effectively monitor and control water supply networks. These advanced technologies enable the administration to detect leaks, reduce system losses, optimise water distribution and ensure that every drop of water is utilised judiciously.

Artificial recharge structures were constructed for recharging groundwater. Some 685 individual farm ponds, 530 community farm ponds, 113 recharge shafts and 105 check dams were constructed across the district. Trenches were cut across 84 locations. Moreover, measures were taken to capture rainfall without any wastage.

The district also focussed on community participation and awareness. There was the active involvement of its residents. In collaboration with local communities and non-profits, the district administration fostered a water conservation culture through awareness campaigns, educational programs and community-led initiatives.

Regular workshops, seminars and interactive sessions empowered individuals to understand the importance of groundwater preservation and encouraged them to actively contribute to the cause.

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