Lack of Drinking Water will prevent development of Jaffna

At present the lack of safe drinking water in sufficient quantity is preventing the development of Jaffna District. Past three decades due to various reasons the quality of water in the district deteriorated and agricultural input is considered the main cause for pollution of water bodies as pesticides and other agro chemical products accumulate in water. Waste from industrial activities is also another cause and in addition the quality of water in wells near to the shores and surrounding the lagoons deteriorates due to intrusion of sea water in the dry seasons. The salt water exclusion bunds along the south coast of the peninsula and the barrage gates at mouth of lagoons to the sea were all malfunctioning for decades due to lack of proper maintenance, been in a state of neglect contributing heavily to the reduction in the amount of drinking water in the district. Then in 2015 the Chunnakam Water Pollution problem was making news, which on confirmation that CEB had caused the problem, were ordered from dumping the burnt oil into the ground at their Chunnakam Power Station. As an interim measure the local council had arranged to supply drinking water to the households in the affected area by bowsers and many water purification plants has surfaced in the market. No attempts were made by the Authorities to remove the contamination in the ground water, but the Jaffna-Kilinochchi Water supply project under construction would meet the drinking water needs of people living in urban and few selected suburbs in the district.

The ground water contamination in the Chunnakam area in Jaffna did help to direct the attention towards the overall ground water situation of the entire peninsula. In 2015 out of interest, inspected some affected wells not far away from the Chunnakam Power Station; advised the owners of the inspected wells to go back to basics by flushing out and washing with clean water the oil polluted wells; as the wells get depleted after few hours, time must laps to allow the wells to get recharged. As it is the water in the reservoir that is polluted, they were to repeat this washing process weekly on each polluted well, until the charging water from underground is free of any contamination. The cleaning process is helped when the reservoir gets charged with fresh water during the rainy season that would push the oil residue out to the wells. The owners cleaned the wells regularly during the 12 months period by pumping the wells dry and washing the bottom as discussed before allowing it to recharge overnight. The owners were warned it would probably take up to two years to flush out the contaminated water from their wells. On checking earlier this year, positive results were observed and today the water is fit for both drinking and cooking purposes. Some of the household water is passed through a domestic filtering plant installed by them. These filters are available in the local market and require proper maintenance. In this particular location wells it took a year; there will be others locations probably taking longer. But will need only another 12 months in the worst polluted well, provided of course all other condition remaining the same as reported in Northern Breeze, ref:

Jaffna peninsula land area is very susceptible to salt water intrusion which has polluted its underground water resource. The salt water intrusion has taken place due to the none-maintenance of salt water exclusion bunds and prolonged negligence and improper management of barrages at Thondamanaru, Ariyali and Araly, resulting in hundreds of acres of lands and many wells were in abandon stage by the turn of this century. In addition polluting the ground water were seepage from increased usage of fertilizer chemicals, garbage and soakage pit waste. Already as the groundwater quality was deteriorating due to the salt water intrusion, it was essential to provide quality water for drinking purposes in many parts of Jaffna Peninsula. The water pollution caused by Chunnakam Power Station oil spill seeping underground only made matters worse and more people are now facing problem in getting good quality water in their wells.

The salt water exclusion bunds along the south coast of the peninsula and all the barrage gates at mouth of lagoons to the sea all have been renovated now and there has been noticeable improvement in reduction of salinity of water in the wells surrounding these facilities. Still the scientists argue that the water crisis in the peninsula is aggravated with excessive use of water in agriculture which inevitably happens in the dry weather. According to research done a few years ago high levels of pollution in ground water due to heavy use of agro chemicals had been evident – though with in the WHO limits on Arsenic. The changing rainfall patterns due to climate change too impact on the groundwater aquifers. Not only the drought, but intense rain during a short period of time, too disturb groundwater recharging cycles due to runoff quickly to the sea and not allow rain water to leach down into the aquifers. Many climate change predictions indicate that the recharging of underground reservoirs in Jaffna Pennisula will reduce by half causing severe problems by the middle of this century.

The Jaffna-Kilinochchi water supply project under construction now is expected to deliver safe drinking water to benefit people living in the towns and suburbs of Jaffna district; will certainly provide on completion some relief mainly in Jaffna District and Poonakari and Palai areas in Kilinochchi District. But a state sponsored complimentary program is still needed for Jaffna District that is faced with mounting shortages of water, a worsening trend in water pollution and growing damages from climate change, it is necessary to conserve and monitor the quality of water periodically. Already many new buildings are coming up at regular intervals in the peninsula that prevent rainwater leaching into the ground and also increases groundwater extraction for commercial purposes. The reduction in the leaching process in urban areas also slows down groundwater recharge due to run off of flood water finding the easy route to the sea. The Water Resources Board could conduct chemical and microbiological analysis of drinking water, wastewater, sewage water, processing water and industrial effluents at regular intervals and with Central Environment Authority support provide guidance for both government and private sector to do construction and other activities without harming water bodies. Data collected at selected water sources should be made public at each Pradesh Sabah and corrective actions taken as an ongoing activity by concerned authorities.

The Northern Provincial Council with the Water Supply & Drainage Board and other relevant authorities could ensure the availability of sustainable quantity of quality water in the district for all purposes and there is a need for a formal water quality control system to be put in operation. Now with the Engineering Faculty of University of Jaffna fully functional, they should be invited to help in solving the water issue in general. The Engineering Faculty could assist the concerned authorities with a proper water quality control and monitoring system and take a lead to provide necessary research assistance to conserve ground water in the peninsula, islands and the mainland of the province. Some areas where the Engineering Faculty could help is in undertaking project studies to Monitoring quality of water and yield of random selected water sources in the peninsula and the islands, Increasing the capacity of surface storage tanks and Artificial recharging of underground reservoirs in the district. Also assist the relevant authorities to reactivate the River for Jaffna project; get actively involved in the design of Modular Water Purification Plants, Modular Desalination Plants and in the preliminary work for a large Seawater Desalination Plant for Jaffna District. This will enable available technologies to be utilized to enhance the supply of quality water to the peninsula and the islands.