In the past month, the sea along the stretch of ECR has advanced by 40 to 50 ft.

In the past month alone, the sea along the stretch of East Coast Road at Nemmeli, located about 40 km away from Chennai, has advanced by 40 to 50 feet, residents of Nemmeli have complained.

Residents and fishermen recall that the shoreline, which was about 300 metres away three years ago, has now rapidly moved inland, particularly in the last year.

George Joseph, who owns a property at Nemmeli, said the area of the beach had reduced drastically, with the shoreline hardly 30 metres away from his house. “I was surprised that the sea had advanced so much since I visited the place a month ago. We are worried about the high tides during cyclones.”

A resident, Manoharan, said the boulders used in the construction of a coffer dam (a structure that facilitates work to lay pipelines for the desalination plant) had obstructed regular sand movement and reduced the beach on the northern side of the desalination plant. Some boats were also damaged after they hit the boulders. The impact of the sea erosion had reached Nemmeli village, about 1.5 km away from the plant, he said.

Fishermen and residents alleged that the waste water from the desalination plant, which has the capacity to treat 100 million litres a day, was being released into the sea. “Our catch has come down substantially. Many times, we catch dead fish or get merely fish bones in our nets. A fisherman’s family hardly earns Rs. 2,000 a month now. About 90 families will be affected if the government does not take steps to solve the problem,” said Balasekaran, a fisherman.

The impact of the advancing sea is felt more at Sulerikattukuppam, a village adjacent to the plant. K.R. Masilamani, a fisherman here, said that several people have either stopped or reduced their trips into the sea. “The loss is more for us as we do not get fish anymore close to the shore. Some of them go to Kazhuveli near south Buckingham canal to fish. But the catch is not enough,” he said.

The groundwater quality had also deteriorated, residents said.

Environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman, who submitted a fact-finding report to Chennai Metrowater two months ago, said any structure jutting into the sea may lead to erosion on the northern side and sand accretion on the southern side. For instance, he pointed out, the sea had advanced inland at Kasimedu, whereas the Marina beach had grown because of the location of Chennai harbour.

Sources in Chennai Metrowater denied that the desalination plant had caused the sea erosion. The coffer dam was removed in January and only seawater, not sullage, was being let out into the sea, they claimed. The brine is being released into the sea through pipelines sunk 1.5 metres below the seabed. A concrete structure constructed behind the desalination plant served as a stormwater drain to release the rainwater from the premises into the sea, the sources added.

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