KOCHI: While wetland conservation has received high priority on the environmental agenda, the situation in Kollam is grim. Sasthamcotta Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Kerala, has shrunk by 50 per cent over the past decade. And Paravur Lake seems headed in the same direction.“The water carrying capacity of Paravur Lake has reduced by 80 per cent with the build-up of sea sand which is killing the lake and its biodiversity,” says Peter Pradeep of Help Foundation, an NGO based in Mayyanad, working towards conserving Paravur Lake for eight years now.
Unlike in Sasthamcotta, where indiscriminate sand mining and encroachments were problems, in Paravur, the crux of the issue lies in closing off the natural estuary. In the old days, the Ithikara River, which flows over 56 km through 12 panchayats and a municipality, would saturate about 6.5 sq km Paravur Lake and recharge the groundwater here. When the river was in spate in the monsoon, the excess water would flow into the Arabian Sea. When the flow came down, the estuary would close naturally with a sand formation and the lake had enough water.
The unscientific setting up of a spillway in the early 1960s, to help farming needs, severely altered the attitude of the lake. When its shutters were opened, saline water and sand swept into the lake; ironically, the former disabled farming. The sand build up on the lake bed, has drastically affected groundwater levels and reduced fish wealth.
When the spillway was first opened, the local people put up a resistance. People who lost their livelihoods, like Archibald, an indigenous fisherman and former Mayyanad panchayat member, petitioned successive fisheries ministers, local MLAs and bureaucrats against the closing of the natural estuary. But nothing changed. “Once Help Foundation arrived on the scene and provided a scientific backing, we were able to take the matter forward,” says Archibald. With his help, the Mayyanad panchayat, working with the NGO, passed a resolution to take steps to protect the lake. The initiatives by Help Foundation included mapping out flow of the Ithikara from the catchment area, ecosystem restoration measures, including mangrove afforestation, setting up of river watch committees, and recording of waste dumping, loss of biodiversity along the Ithikara river with the help of schoolchildren and eco-clubs.
The information thus compiled was handed over to the Chadayamangalam block panchayat president. Following this, the Survey Department allocated two surveyors to mark the river banks, but this was not carried through citing a lack of response from the taluk offices. Presentations and petitions were made to the Major and Minor Irrigation, Fisheries and the Revenue Departments.
While the Major Irrigation Department claims the spillway is a good regulatory measure which is opened in June at the start of the monsoon and closed in December, Peter Pradeep says the shutters of the spillway need maintenance and it was only after he approached the district administration that the shutters were closed around March this year. “But we are hopeful the current District Collector S Kartikeyan will do more than his predecessors,” says Peter. A Major Irrigation Department officer said the maintenance wing has requested Rs 18 lakh for the spillway shutter maintenance, but it has not been sanctioned. “The spillway was last maintained eight years back; there are leaks in the shutter,” he said.