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| Last Updated:: 05/12/2014

Lake revamp cast adrift in Chennai

 Historically, civilisations settled along waterways, and were key to settlements coming up. However, today, as settlements expand the city, the fate of its waterways, including the lakes, is being questioned.

During the 1980s, a research project of Anna University had estimated that there were nearly 400 water bodies in the Chennai region. But, subsequently, rapid urbanisation has changed the condition of these precious resources and even wiped a few off the city’s map.

Though the Water Resources Department (WRD) is making an attempt to restore some of the lakes, more often than not there are road blocks. The lakes in Ayanambakkam and Koilpadagai near Avadi are among the few that have been rejuvenated.

According to the department’s records, the total water spread area of the city’s 19 major lakes, including the nearly extinct tanks in Kolathur and Maduravoyal, has shrunk to 645 hectares — only 50 per cent of the original combined capacity.

The lakes in Chitlapakkam, Sembakkam and Ambattur present classic tales of the sorry state of water bodies in the city. Illegal discharge of sewage, and sheets of water hyacinth that choke the water surface are some of the issues behind the degradation of these lakes. The southern suburbs alone boast of 53 water bodies; but, the WRD struggles to maintain these lakes.

P. Viswanathan, convenor of Chitlapakkam Residents’ Coordination Committee, said rainwater from the catchment areas has been diverted to prevent flow into encroached lakes. A comprehensive underground drainage scheme is the need of the hour, he added.

Within the city, the lakes in Chetpet and Velachery are probably the most affected by surrounding human activity.

The revival of Velachery lake has been hanging fire for several years. Though a number of projects were devised, they are yet to become reality. S. Kumararaja, secretary, Federation of Residents Welfare Associations, said only minor maintenance work was taken up every year. The proposal to develop it as a tourist attraction has also not taken off.

Similarly, residents are concerned over the slow decay of the sprawling Perungudi lake due to sewage and debris. Several representations have been made about a temple built in the lake.

M. Karmegam, former director of Centre for Water Resources, said: “Nearly 40 per cent of Ambattur lake has been encroached upon and Velachery lake has shrunk to one-third of its size.”

Water experts suggest that the government safeguard the available space of the water bodies and convert them into recreational spots. The only solution to save them is to demarcate boundaries and convert a portion of them into percolation ponds to serve as a source of drinking water and groundwater recharge, Mr. Karmegam said.

Meanwhile, the WRD, which has removed encroachments on many lakes, under the Tamil Nadu Protection of Tanks and Eviction of Encroachment Act, 2007, plans to restore them in a phased manner. The lakes in Ambattur, Korattur and Madhavaram will be among the first to be rejuvenated, according to officials.

(With additional reporting by T. Madhavan and R. Srikanth)