India stares at summer water crisis as reservoir levels slide

India’s main reservoirs have reached their lowest March levels in five years, revealing indications of a possible shortage on drinking water and power availability this summer. In prominent centres such as India’s “Silicon Valley” Bengaluru, home to firms like Google, water supply is already being hindered. The 150 reservoirs monitored by the federal government that supply water for drinking and irrigation, and are the nation’s prominent source of hydroelectricity, were filled to just 40 per cent of capacity last week, government information revealed. In the southern state of Karnataka, home to Bengaluru, the main reservoir was down to 16 per cent capacity.

Water reserves are the lowest for March since 2019, when reservoir capacity fell to 35 per cent and saw southern cities such as Chennai run out of water. The situation could escalate the destruction in central and southern cities that has to deal with extreme heatwaves in April and May. India’s water resources get replenished only around June with pre-monsoon and monsoon rains. In other industrial states such as Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, and agricultural states Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, levels are below their 10-year averages.

In the longer term, there is a risk of water wars if governments do not act now, revealed Mr Sandeep Anirudhan, convener of the Coalition for Water Security. The low water levels follow a monsoon season in 2023 that saw the lightest downpours since 2018, after the El Nino weather pattern made August the driest in more than a century. The monsoon was also uneven, with some regions getting more downpour than others. A senior official in the federal power ministry said the ministry is monitoring reservoir levels but does not yet expect a situation that could result in a shutdown of plants.