The Sasthamcotta Lake in Kollam district which was designated as a Ramsar Site in November 2002 and listed by the Government of India as a wetland of national importance has started shrinking at an alarming rate. Sasthamcotta Lake is also Kerala’s largest freshwater lake.
Although the water level of the lake has always fluctuated in response to the summer and monsoon, environmental activists and others living in the vicinity of the lake said the decline in the lake’s water
volume at present is simply alarming. Even as summer has only started advancing, the lake exposes its parched bed on all sides.
At a couple of locations, the lake has shrunk by about 250 meters to 300 meters. Indiscriminate exploitation of water from the lake and environment degradation activities carried out around the catchment area of the lake is being cited as the main cause for the reduced lake volume.
Monsoon rains are not the main water source of the lake. Its main source of water is the underground sprouts. These sprouts had been sustaining the water volume at a satisfactory level even during the height of summer. But this year the lake started shrinking even by January end.
The area of the lake as per official records is 3.74 square kilo meters and has the capacity to hold 22.39 million litres of water. It is surrounded by thirty-eight hills on three sides and paddy fields on the eastern side. To prevent water from spilling into the fields, an earthen bund has been constructed. Almost all the hills surrounding the lake have human habitations.
According to the general convener of the Environment Protection Coordination Council, Odanavattam Vijayarakash, one of the biggest threats to the lake’s volume is the uncontrolled and illegal clay and
sand mining activity in its catchment areas and the periphery of those areas. The council is in the forefront since the past many years championing the cause of the lake’s protection and conservation.
These activities have created huge gaping chasms all over the catchment area which in turn have depleted the underground sprouts of the lake, Mr. Viajyaprakash said. Continuing to remain the drinking water source for Kollam city and a couple of grama panchayats in such a situation is also heavily taxing the lake.
Each day 37.5 million litres of water is being pumped from the lake for drinking water purposes. The pumping rate continues even as the lake stands alarmingly shrunk. Added to this the State government is shortly commissioning another major drinking water project for three more grama panchayats with the Sasthamcotta Lake as the source.
This is in spite of the fact that the State government’s Centre for Earth Science Studies had warned against further exploitation of the lake for drinking water projects. Environment activists say the new project will sound the death knell for the lake. Yet there is no concrete programme to protect and conserve the lake.
While several projects for the purpose had been announced from time to time, none of them have taken shape, Mr. Vijayaprakash said. Added to that, the lake is also made to serve as garbage and other domestic
waste dump of Sasthamcotta town. The main reason for this is that the lake has not been made a reliable drinking water source for the people of Sasthamcotta under any of the government’s water supply schemes.