Delhi’s water predicament, swinging between abundance and scarcity, was evident during the recent monsoon season. Timarpur Lake, previously notorious for minor crimes and sewage odors, is undergoing a transformation. It will soon welcome visitors with a new amphitheater, a children’s play area, and decorative fountains.
This revival is the start of Delhi’s effort to secure its water and reduce reliance on neighboring states. The ‘City of Lakes’ initiative by the local government aims to rejuvenate around 600 water bodies. These reservoirs will store surplus rainfall and recycled water. Despite once having over 1,000 water bodies, rapid urbanization has painted Delhi as a city plagued by pollution and dangerous roads.
The loss of freshwater ponds has left Delhi with a deficit of 300 million gallons a day – almost a quarter of its needs, enough to fill over 450 Olympic-size swimming pools. However, the task of reviving these lakes is complex. Many need nearby water treatment facilities. Due to budget constraints, the pandemic, and bureaucratic obstacles, the project took five years to start, with fewer than 50 lakes restored so far.
“Some water bodies need investment due to their poor condition,” says Madhu Verma, Chief Economist at WRI India, which seeks sustainable solutions. She emphasizes the need to educate investors about the benefits of such infrastructure.
The monsoon season highlighted Delhi’s dual water crisis – too much and too little. The city faced severe flooding, causing the shutdown of water treatment plants and reducing supply by 25%. India also needs more clean water for its growing population. It extracts almost a quarter of the world’s groundwater, despite having only 4% of Earth’s freshwater resources.
Completed projects show promise, with groundwater rising up to six meters according to Delhi’s government. Reviving these lakes, and sometimes creating artificial ones, is complex. Delhi gets around 15 days of rain during the monsoon, while lakes need a consistent water source, says Ankit Srivastava, an engineer advising the Delhi Jal Board.
“We’re connecting every lake to a water source to ensure they don’t dry up,” he says.
Delhi produces 500 million gallons of recycled water daily, most of which goes to waste. This water will be channeled into lakes and treated further before reaching households.
Another goal is flood mitigation, but skepticism exists. Recent flooding from the Yamuna River was worsened by urbanization in low-lying areas, says Manu Bhatnagar from INTACH. Delhi’s lakes are limited in their flood-buffering capacity due to their size and locations.
Numerous lakes shrank due to construction for economic growth. Revitalization efforts are expected to enhance residents’ lives and attract beneficial species, fostering healthier lake ecosystems.
At Timarpur Lake, around 50 laborers are hastening the sewage treatment plant’s completion, which will supply recycled water. The iron gate, reading “Work in Progress. Accident Prone Area,” will open to the public this year.