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Biodiversity and much more

Shankar Bennur
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Winged beauties find the habitat around Lingambudi lake suitable and arrive there in hordes every year.— Photo: M.A. Sriram
Winged beauties find the habitat around Lingambudi lake suitable and arrive there in hordes every year.— Photo: M.A. Sriram

Sustainable management of urban water bodies needs more attention nowadays as they serve as recreational spaces and biodiversity spots besides recharging the groundwater table, according to experts.

But, because of rapid urbanisation, they are facing a serious threat in cities and towns. As the water bodies support different kinds of life forms, there is an utmost urgency to focus on their conservation.

Among a host of issues that are threatening the survival of urban water bodies, pollution plays a big role. In cities, sewage is let into the water bodies, contaminating them. Will there be an end to lake pollution?

Environmental Management and Policy Research Institute (EMPRI) Director-General R.M.N. Sahai said at a recent workshop on sustainable management of urban water bodies at the Mysore zoo that water is the most threatened natural resource and has reached critical limits. If water bodies are threatened, the biodiversity also gets threatened, he said, giving a call to the youth to develop interest towards conserving water bodies in urban areas. According to Mr. Sahai, wildlife would be in peril if water bodies were contaminated and the storage area was reduced.

At the workshop, topics such as lake ecosystem, phycology of urban lakes, wetland as habitat, flora and fauna of the urban lakes, legal policy and institutional framework, reclaiming encroached urban lakes and catchment areas and action plans for sustainable management of urban water bodies and so on were discussed.

Understanding the seriousness of sustainable management of urban water bodies, the authorities in Mysore have stepped up efforts to contain sewage flow into the prominent water bodies of Mysore such as Karanji Lake, abutting the Chamundi Hills.

The Karanji Lake Nature Park is under the management of Mysore zoo. A major source of water for the zoo (for its garden), the lake, which draws various species of birds for nesting every year, is yet to become “pollution free” though sewage flow had been checked to some extent in the recent years.

Can it become the city’s first “contaminant-free lake”? This is possible only if sewage discharge from neighbouring localities such as Siddharthanagar is stopped completely, they argue.

For this, the underground drainage (UGD) pipes are necessary to be replaced with bigger diameter ones to handle the sewage flow. The pipes had been laid long ago, in accordance with the population then, and they need to be replaced immediately with bigger ones to check sewage overflow into the lake. The Mysore City Corporation has come up with a Rs. 3.5-crore project to replace the UGD pipes and it is before the government for approval.

The then chairman of the Zoo Authority of Karnataka, M. Nanjundaswamy, had said that the zoo had been making efforts to cleanse Karanji Lake. “Effluents are still released into the lake, though on a minor scale. Administrative clearance has been given for the diversion of drainage lines,” he had said.

According to the proceedings of the workshop, environmentalist U.N. Ravi Kumar, during a session on lake ecosystem, gave an overview of ecosystem, biosphere, various types of wetlands etc. The encroachment of water bodies is due to indiscriminate urban development, as in case of Bangalore, and the reasons include transportation, cultivation, sewage disposal, and siltation.

Another expert, Shankar P. Hosmani, discussed about the phycology of lakes (dealing with algae) and types of algae such as eugleanceae, chlorococcales, Bacillariophyceae, Desmids, and Desmedium. The non-desirable algae include arthrospira platensis, raphidiopsis medeteraina, filamentous algae etc. For example, microcystis is found in Kukkarahalli lake, he said.

He suggested a policy for reducing algae formation in water bodies. Nitrosamines culture spread to algae (adopted in Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad) can reduce algal formations.

While M.B. Krishna opined that the lake ecosystem serves as an open house classroom, another expert, K.B. Sadananda, discussed about flora in water bodies such as aquatic plants and argued that the aesthetical value of flora cannot be neglected. S. Ravichandra Reddy spoke about fauna in urban lakes like fish, amphibians, water snakes, turtle, birds etc. Various species of fish that are present in different water bodies were listed.

A unique attempt had been made in Mysore with regard to a lake which was in need of attention. The residents of villages (and also some residential areas located on the outskirts of the city) in the vicinity of Lingambudi lakehave formed a Grama Aranya Samiti [village forest committee] with the support the Forest Department. It is common to find VFCs for the conservation, development and management of forests, but a VFC for the conservation, development and management of a lake is said to be first of its kind in the State.

The VFC for Lingambudi had convened meetings to chalk out activities for the protection and development of the water body. It had been constituted in accordance with a government order issued in 2002 on joint forest planning and management (JFPM). The funds released for lake development will go through the VFC.

Spread across 218 acres, Lingambudi lake comes under the notified reserve forest and is under the control of the Forest Department, which had developed a portion of the lake surroundings for attracting visitors. The lake's environs have been one of the key habitats for many bird species, including aquatic and terrestrial, which nest and breed on the trees on the lake bed. In view of this, the Forest Department has been treading carefully on its development projects.

Among its plans, the department has set a vision for developing Lingambudi on the lines of Karanji Lake Nature Park (KLNP). There is a plan to introduce boating to attract visitors by cleaning up the lake. At the same time, the district administration has proposed to develop a garden in the lake surroundings on the lines of Mughal Gardens.

But, like the Karanji Lake, the sewage flow into Lingambudi has not been completely checked. Therefore, a Rs. 2-crore lake development project had been sent to the government for approval. The plan includes desilting, checking sewage flow and other development works. Once the lake is developed into a nature park, the VFC may be asked to look after its management and further development since the Range Forest Officer is the secretary of the Lingambudi lake VFC.

A forest official had said earlier that the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA) has reportedly agreed to take up the responsibility of fencing the lake. Fencing is important as it protects the lake from encroachment.

Another important landmark of Mysore, Kukkarahalli Lake, located in the sprawling Manasagangotri campus and controlled by the University of Mysore, is also in need of attention as sewage discharge into the lake is still an issue that the Mysore City Corporation has not addressed fully. Efforts are necessary to bring freshwater into the lake which has widespread algal growth.

Shankar Bennur

Sustainable management of urban water bodies is crucial in these days of rapid urbanisation