The revivalists: This is how Chennai is replenishing its water bodies
Makkal Trust, a Coimbatore-based social welfare group, is taking small yet effective steps to desilt and restore waterbodies across Tamil Nadu
CHENNAI: The summer ofi 2019 has been difficult for Tamil Nadu. The state has been reeling under acute water crisis, especially after Chennai’s Porur Lake, which is considered one of the main sources of water, reached its lowest level. The rainfall deficit has depleted the level of groundwater across the state. In June this year, the Madras High Court had sought a detailed report on the number of lakes and reservoirs in the state, including steps taken for desilting of waterbodies. But the work seems to be far from done. The crisis is now a clarion call for citizens to swing into action, join individual hands to find collective solutions. One such effort is being made by Coimbatore-based Makkal Trust, which believes that not just every drop, but every baby step counts too.
Six months back, the Trust took up the responsibility of desilting waterbodies across the state. “Few factors such as heavy rainfall, deforestation, structural interventions and enclosure of water in reservoirs increased the rate of siltation in rivers. This reduces the water-carrying capacity of rivers, leading to floods and loss of water. So, it is important to de-silt the waterbed once a year and maintain them,” explains JP Shanmugam, founder of Makkal Trust. Armed with their civic duties, the Trust members not only improved the water-holding capacity of every pond and lake they visited, but also thereby helped to increase the groundwater level.
Desilting is the process of removing fine silt and sediment that gets collected in a river to restore its natural capacity. It is generally done along with garbage collection, plant removal and widening of the rivers’ banks in a process commonly known as dredging. So far, the Trust has de-silted more than 10 waterbodies in Chennai, Coimbatore, Ariyalur, Thiruvarur and Namakkal.
“Last year, many cities, including Coimbatore, faced water problems. We, as a team, realised that there is a need to revive waterbodies. Initially, we joined hands with few non-governmental organisations and the general public, and removed silts from Rajavaikal, the most important waterway (canal) of Kurichi Kulam, six months back. It was then that we received rains, and the water level rose from 700 feet to 350 feet. This will be sufficient to supply water to the entire area for two years,” says Suresh Kumar M, coordinator, Makkal Trust.
Residents who reside near waterbodies can call the volunteers to desilt their groundwater source. The team of volunteers visit the place with an electric excavator (JCB) and start desilting the lake or pond. They remove the garbage and deepen the waterbody for one metre approximately. The silts that are collected will be discharged in the shore to strengthen the banks of the river. “It will take around seven to ten days to desilt a ten-kilometre area. After seeing the results in Rajavaikal canal, we were invited by many agriculturalists across the state for desilting. Thus, we extended the services for free to other cities too,” says Suresh.
When agriculturalists or locals contact the team to desilt the lakes, the volunteers first seek government approval and then begin the process. So far, around six acres of Vadugan lake and 12 acres of Thondan lake in Vilangudi village in Ariyalur district, 34 acres of Sadayankuppam in Ennore, Chennai, and 10 acres of 150-year-old Chetti lake in Perambalur have been revived. In addition to this, saplings are also planted on the banks of the lake. “Last month, we desilted around 20 ponds in Vadavaari irrigation area in Nidamangalam and Tiruvarur. Through this, seven villages spread over 1,000 acres will be benefitted during the rainy season. The local farmers can use water from here for irrigation as well as drinking purposes,” he says.
Suresh denies facing too many challenges. “Locals residing on the banks of the river pollute the water by throwing garbage and plastic waste into it. Industries also discharge their chemical waste into it. Now, awareness of water pollution has risen in all cities and it has become easier to remove the silt. In many places, when manpower becomes the problem, the public and other volunteers join us. After a few months, we decided to renovate damaged check dams in the city for effective water restoration,” he says.
Farmers near Rajavaikal canal are rejoicing the abundance of water that they have been receiving. “We, villagers, depend on agriculture. But, we have been affected by severe drought. Now that the canal has been cleared, water is flowing, unhindered through the agricultural land and there has not been wastage of water either,” says Nachimuthu S, a farmer.
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