Salinity in groundwater is a rising concern in coastal India, threatening the drinking water for hundreds of thousands.

Kochi is a city of about 600,000 in the Chellanam area of India, on the southwestern coast against the Arabian Sea. Much of the water that provides for the large city comes from ponds and wells, that which isn’t piped from inland. But in recent decades, rising sea levels and evaporating surface water have caused salt incursions.

According to local families, well water became too high in salinity to drink 60 years ago. Today, it’s too salty for bathing or even washing clothes. Ponds are too warm, and drying up.

“People are suffering because the aquifers are getting salinized,” said Bijoy Nandan, dean of marine sciences at Cochin University of Science and Technology. Salinity has increased by 30% to 40% since the first studies of water in the area in 1971, he said.

Even the pipelines bringing water from miles away aren’t immune to the problem. Frequent breaks in the pipelines cause water to have to be brought in by truck.

“We do not have clean water for even cleaning ourselves. We are surrounded by water but we do not have any consumable water,” said 73-year-old Anthony Kuttappassera, who lives in a small village just outside the city. “When this pond was in usable condition there was no such issue and we had enough water for everything. There was no need for any other source. But now we are using packed water for everything.”

India is the third-highest emitter of carbon dioxide. In recent years they’ve made more of a transition to clean energy, but it hasn’t been an easy transition. More dams are driving people out of their homes inland, which is exacerbating the water issues at the coast.

S. Sreekesh, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, studied the worsening threat in the Kochi area looking at satellite, tide gauge and other data from the 1970s through 2020. He found seas rising by about 1.8 millimeters (0.07 inch) a year.

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