Once known as ‘Thames of South India’, the highly polluted and toxic Cooum river flowing through several areas of the city is all set to regain its past glory, with the Tamil Nadu Government executing a 10-year comprehensive Rs. 1600 crore plan to clean it up.

The narrow, slow and meandering 65 km long Cooum river, once a freshwater source, originates in a village of the same name in neighbouring Tiruvalluvar district and ends in the city. It almost bisects the city.

As part of the plan, a Chennai River Water Authority (CRWA), a Special Purpose Vehicle formed by the Government, to take up Buckingham Canal (Cooum River) cleaning project, was constituted and recently signed an agreement with Singapore Corporation Enterprise (SCE) for technical assistance.

“The Cooum restoration project is a comprehensive programme aimed at cleaning and plugging the sources of pollution along the entire 65—km stretch of the river, including 18 km that falls in the city limits, at a cost of about Rs. 1600 crore”, CRWA Trust Member Secretary K.Phanindra Reddy told PTI.

At present the river faces a number of problems like excessive use of water for irrigation upstream, inadequate sewage collection, pumping and treatment capacities in suburban areas and to a certain extent in Chennai city, industrial pollution, encroachments along the banks and closure of the river mouth due to littoral drift.

All these make discharge of flood waters difficult and prevent dilution of waste in the river.

“During the first phase, we have identified 178 sewage outfalls along Cooum and other waterways. A plan has been drawn up to plug 60 sewage outfalls and free them of encroachments in two years”, Mr. Reddy said.

He said a team of top SCE officials, with rich experience in cleaning polluted Singapore and San Antonio rivers in 10 years, would also help concerned officials to train engineers, who require exposure in the new task”, he said.

Stating that CRWA also prepared detailed project reports for augmentation of sewerage and sewage treatment capacities in Chennai and outlying municipalities at a cost of Rs. 468 crore, he said the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board would clear all the identified 7,400 encroachments before June.

Improving the storage capacity of irrigation tanks upstream to ensure free water flow, construction of check dams to impound rain water, improving sewage collection and effective prevention of pollution from industries would be carried out in a phased manner, he said.

Moreover, solid waste management practices by industries along the Cooum would be improved to ensure that no solid waste, plastics and biomedical waste are dumped. Continuous dredging would be undertaken to improve tidal exchange to keep the river mouth open, he said.

“Improvement in water quality in Cooum River will take at least five to six years as the sewage infrastructure has to be improved”, he said.

CRWA was talking to various universities on using treated sewage in an effective way, he said.

Chennai Corporation Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni said the civic body has been entrusted with the task of constructing parks on the road along the Cooum. “We have already begun work on creating parks along Langs Garden Road at a cost of Rs. 1.27 crore”, he said.

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