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`Present scheme on linking rivers best bet'

"Groundwater in aquifers in and around the city should be tapped without mining them"



Chennai is going through yet another searing summer. Water shortage has hit many neighbourhoods and groundwater table is falling. Where is Chennai's water situation headed for? A. Mohanakrishnan, former Chief Engineer (Irrigation) of Tamil Nadu and now the Chairman of the Cauvery Technical Cell and Tamil Nadu Government's Adviser on Water Resources, answers queries on the minds of residents. In a conversation with K. Kirubanidhi, the professional water manager explains his stand on interlinking of rivers.

CHENNAI'S WATER crisis has its roots in history. With no river worth its name to tap water for drinking purposes and the population booming, water managers had to look to the Kosastalayar basin, whose meagre resources provided the first planned water supply to the city through Red Hills and Sholavaram.

"With the unreliable North East Monsoon, upon which the small streams are dependent, we are trying to get water from the river in the north, Krishna, which is influenced by the (more dependable) South West Monsoon," says the "Water Man of Tamil Nadu," who has executed major irrigation projects for the State and played a key role in building the Lower Bhavani. Krishnagiri, Sathanur and other dams in the Plan projects.

As the Chairman of the Expert Committee on the Telugu Ganga Project, he admits that the 12 tmcft that is to be realised for Chennai under the project is "unfortunately" not happening right now but he has high hopes, as the "Andhra brothers" had been accommodative.

It is indeed his achievement that saw through the talks with the neighbouring State on the technical and political feasibility of the project.

The Veeranam project, whose first stage successfully served the needs of the water-starved city, has come as a boon at the right time.

"We also have a proposal to draw water from the Cauvery, tapping the same just below the Mettur reservoir for which estimates have been made," the 79-year-old engineer said.

Asked about desalination, he said what Chennai needed was a mega project that could be "a standby" in case of monsoon failure. This must be done irrespective of the cost, as it could meet part of the drinking water needs of a huge population.

Tapping groundwater in aquifers in and around the city should be done "without mining the same" and limiting the exploitation so that these could be recharged during monsoon.

He stressed the need for economical use of water at the individual and community levels.

Social action groups and welfare organisations can identify local trustees, who will ensure an equitable distribution of water and ensure collective and mutual help among residents.

A part-time member of the Task Force on Interlinking of Rivers, he says the present scheme on linking of rivers is the best one so far as it has taken into account the strengths and weaknesses of the previous plans. It aims at sharing the flows equitably among the river basins in the country.

Political will, consensus and cooperation are needed to implement this nationally important project that may take some decades.

Prof. Mohanakrishnan, who has been widely associated with Anna University and was conferred Degree of Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) in 1997, is optimistic that the Information Technology field holds promise and the students need to apply the basic engineering skills to make innovations in the field.

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