All 34 temple tanks in the city and surrounding areas require renovation work of some kind, as per a status report prepared by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department (HR and CE).
While some of the tanks remain dry in summer, the biggest problem faced in the maintenance of these tanks, according to the report prepared by the department is the dumping of waste and letting of sewage. The present state is due to lack of awareness among public about the crucial role played by these tanks, an official says.
The purpose of temple tanks is not confined to celebrating float festivals. They serve the larger purpose of recharging groundwater. “These tanks have the ability to recharge the surrounding area within a radius of about 500 metres,” says Madhavi Ganesan, associate professor, Centre for Water Resources, Anna University.
“Temple tanks in the city are a mechanism for harvesting rainwater. In a city that receives an annual rainfall of close to 1,200 mm, these tanks can be optimally utilised. The rainwater that falls in the temple and the surrounding areas can be diverted into the tank, and this will help satisfy most of the water requirements,” she says.
“The renovation of temple tanks involves a coordinated job. Only with the help of the Chennai Corporation and the Chennai Metrowater, the tanks can be safeguarded,” says an official from HR and CE.
The inlets system of certain tanks is also not well planned as many have been blocked in the face of urbanisation.
“The Marundeeswarar temple tank in Thiruvanmiyur has a stormwater drain directed to the temple without any treatment facility. The tank is now half full of putrid water,” says Sreedhar Subramanian, a member of Valmiki Nagar Residents' Welfare Association.
“Another issue is the clay bed laid as a result of which the temple tank does not seem to act as a percolation tank,” he adds.
But, some of the community members have woken up to the importance of rainwater harvesting and come forward to improve the situation.
The residents near the Arkeeswarar temple in Pammal, pooled in money and with assistance from certain voluntary organisations restored the tank to its original state.
“We have ensured that rainwater that falls in the surrounding areas of the tank is first directed into a smaller tank where the sediments settle down, after which it flows into the temple tank. Before the project, the tank was filthy, but now it is clean and regularly maintained by the authorities. The biggest advantage has been that the water level in wells in the surrounding areas has improved considerably,” says S. Indra Kumar, a resident of Pammal.