How can cities do better water resources management?

We are on the brink of a global water crisis. Most of the cities are on the verge of exhausting their freshwater resources. We are either over-exploiting our underground aquifers, or over-polluted our rivers, lakes, and ponds, or most likely have done both. Recently Chennai (the sixth-largest city in India) have used all its groundwater resource. Their aquifers have dried up, Chennai is one of the wettest cities in the world with an average annual rainfall of 1400mm (twice that of London), and has 3 major rivers ran out of water in 2019. It is ironic, isn’t it?

But how does it happen? How is it that one month we are facing flood and the next we are facing drought? The answer is poor water management. According to UNDP most of the time, water scarcity is resulted due to the poor management of water resources. This is exactly what happened in the case of Chennai.

Most of Chennai’s surface water resources are extremely polluted, which means that other sources (i.e. groundwater) are overly exploited. This problem of mismanagement and over pollution is not just limited to Chennai. Almost every major city in the world is on brink of a water crisis. And to prevent that crisis from happening, it is imperative that cities understand this problem and start focusing on how they can better manage their water resources. Luckily most of the cities have realized that and are in the process of overhauling their water management policies and systems.

But where should we start? How can we better manage our water resources? Below is the list of key points that a city should keep in mind if they want to better manage their water resources:

Key points to achieve water sustainability:

1. Clean the rivers/ lakes

Now, given the fact that we are already struggling to fulfill our water, it doesn’t seem smart to destroy a freshwater resource by polluting our rivers lakes other surface water resources. I mean even a stupid person can tell you this. It is vital that those cities that have rivers or other surface water resources keep those resources clean. We need to monitor whatever waste we are dumping in them, make sure they are treated and within a permissible limit.  

2. Close the tap on water losses

Most of the cities have sufficient water to meet all their water demands, but the fact that we end up wasting a lot of that water in the form of water losses increases that water demand by a huge margin. Various studies have shown that on average, during supply 10-20% of water is lost in the distribution system, due to leaks, and other defects. As per a report by ASSOCHAM, the city of Delhi, witnesses up to 40% of the loss of total distributed water.

And in the case of many cities, this number is as high as 50%. The given percentage only reflects the amount of water loss during distribution, excluding the loss of water that takes place at the consumer end, due to faulty tap, overflowing, and reckless usage. By tapping our water loss, we can reduce our demand as well as save millions of liters of water every year. This is why today cities all over the world are looking to cut down their water losses by upgrading their water supply infrastructure.

3. Recycle/ Reuse

By recycling water from a variety of sources and then treating and reusing it for beneficial purposes such as agriculture and irrigation, potable water supplies, groundwater replenishment, industrial processes, or even drinking purposes (if treated adequately) we can reduce our water demand drastically. Recycling water has many advantages not only does it drastically reduce our water demand but by reusing wastewater, instead of discharging it into the environment we also reduce the pollution as well as over-exploitation of other water resources.

If we reduce our water usage, we will reduce our water demand. It is as simple as that, if we use less water, you will need less water. There are many ways we can reduce our water usage, even the slightest of lifestyle changes can make a huge impact (for example switching to a bucket instead of a shower alone can save up to 25-30 liters of water). Similarly, by irrigating in the evening instead of morning or afternoon, we can reduce the water loss due to evaporation reducing up to 25% of irrigation demand.

5. Capture the rainwater

Rainwater is one of the purest forms of fresh water available on Earth. It is an important source of water, but the problem with rain is that they are uneven. As the climate is changing we are witnessing the trend of a shorter but more intense rainy season. We still receive the same amount of water but in a short time span, which means most of the rainwater gets wasted, and runoff into the rivers and seas. By efficiently capturing and storing the rainwater, we can prevent the wastage of fresh water as well as prevent floods to an extent.

Rainwater harvesting isn’t a new phenomenon, and can easily be integrated into cities’ water management plans. Rainwater harvesting can also help in restoring the groundwater table.

These are the basic 5 key points/ goals that are major pre-requisite for an efficient water management system that every city needs to integrate into their water management plans if they want to reduce the risk of running out of water.