Chennai’s waterbodies on death row
Eight major lakes in south-east Chennai are plagued by sewage inflow, incessant garbage dumping and encroachments.
CHENNAI: A small kuttai or a large lake, irrespective of its size, waterbodies have always been a contributor towards recharge of groundwater table especially in metros like Chennai. But, the city’s waterbodies are either dying or dead owing to encroachments, sewage, and concrete constructions all over them, say water experts. Currently, waterbodies are present only in south-east, south-west, north-east and north-west parts of the city. But, the stench of neglect and apathy reek through these. If the government doesn’t conserve them now, these waterbodies face the threat of extinction. In other parts like central Chennai, almost all former waterbodies have vanished from maps.
When Express picked up a list of eight major lakes in south-east Chennai and analysed the problems specific to each lake, it was apparent that three main problems — sewage inflow, encroachments and garbage dumping — were rapidly destroying these waterbodies. Also, if these were preserved from the beginning, the residents in that locality would have had ample water in the groundwater table for drinking purposes, and the impact of acute water shortage faced now by the city could have been reduced to a large extent.
In areas like Madambakkam, Medavakkam, Perumbakkam, Sitalapakkam and Ottiambakkam, though large lakes spread across 150-200 acres still exist, they are in the danger zone due to serious threats of encroachments and misuse. For instance, the Madambakkam lake is spread across 250 acres and had very high water retention potential.
During the 1980s, the 50,000 plus residents of Madambakkam Panchayat found good quality water even at 10 ft-15 ft depth and were oblivious to the troubles of water shortage. But now, after 30 years, they are unable to find water even at 320 ft-400 ft depth. As the lake wasn’t protected by the government, groundwater levels have depreciated greatly, making residents dependent on can water and tankers.
“The lake hasn’t been desilted even once in the last three to four decades. Around five acres of catchment areas of the lake, near Agaram, has been encroached by buildings. Three days back, eight borewells were sunk till 400 ft, but still there was no water. Small hotels in Padmavathi Nagar and Yasodha Nagar have shut shop as there is no groundwater in Madambakkam,” said G Rajendran, secretary of Save Madambakkam Lake committee.
Public Works Department and Panchayat officials have dug five wells, up to 56 ft in depth, on the lake bed to draw water to be provided for Chitlapakkam residents. “We have no objection in sharing water with our neighbouring area. But around 20 lakh litres of water will be pumped every day for both localities from the groundwater table. No land, soil or aquifer surveys were taken to gauge the amount of water present underground. Eventually, this water will run out in four months or so. This is not a well-planned solution for both areas. The lake’s water holding and recharge capacity will be destroyed because of this. Instead, Chitlapakkam lake could have been restored with the fund of Rs 300 lakh,” said A Krishnan, a resident and member of the committee.
Two medium-sized lakes in Medavakkam are classic examples of neglected and misused waterbodies. Ignored by officials, they have fallen prey to incessant sewage and garbage dumping. “The Medavakkam Eri opposite Quaid e Millath college is spread across 200 plus acres and still holds water. But a closer look at the lake will tell you that half its volume has been replaced by sewage dumped by private tankers. As it is not fenced, residents pollute the lake by dumping garbage and construction debris,” said Arun Krishnamurthy, founder of Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI).
Lakes in Vengaivasal Perumbakkam, Sitalapakkam and Ottiambakkam suffer a similar fate. “We are facing many hurdles in taking up restoration works in some lakes including Rajakilpakkam lake, Mudichur Seekana Eri and Vizhinjiyambakkam lake due to heavy encroachments backed by political interests. Now is the ideal time for the government to desilt all these waterbodies as a majority of them have gone dry,” he said.