D. Karthikeyan

Community participation vital to prevent degradation of water bodies

MADURAI: Tanks and lakes in and around Madurai, some of which are more than 2,000 years old, were established before modernity directed, technology driven apparatus were invented. Termed as community tanks, these were historically maintained by the residents living in the vicinity. They desilted tanks and transferred silt to their agricultural lands every year.

Experts point to the dismantling of community management system and its replacement by the Public Works Department (PWD), which abandoned the value of deepening lakes and tanks, as the reason for decline of water bodies. Madurai accommodates approximately 10.92 square km of area under water bodies, covered by 21 tanks of which six (Madakulam, Bibikulam and four temple tanks) are located within Corporation limits. PWD is the responsible agency for maintenance of 17 tanks and four tanks, mainly belonging to temples, are being maintained by Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department.

A rich history is there behind the evolution of man-made tanks. Vandiyur Mariamman Teppapulam, dug by Tirumalai Naicker, is the biggest of its kind in Tamil Nadu. Water bodies of all kinds, whether it is innate, manmade and transient are witness to environmental degradation, the degree and level of which can be at variance.

The culprits

Degradation is caused due to encroachments, eutrophication from domestic and industrial effluents and silt. Experts cite human settlements and public effluent sources as the main culprits. On the location front, a lake view property has prestige attached to it paving way to intense shoreline development on urban areas and thus adversely impacting the lake water quality. Population explosion and its resultant infrastructure development and encroachments have contributed to urban water bodies turning moribund. Most have vanished under this pressure. In the surviving lakes drinking water supply has been substantially reduced or become totally non potable.

National Water Quality Monitoring Programme (NWMP)’s assessment of groundwater quality report 2005 states that in Madurai, domestic sewage is discharged on open land or through drains. The municipal solid waste generation is more than 459 tonnes per day and water quality not satisfactory.

The surviving water bodies are witnessing widespread decay and decline, mainly due to heavy siltation and inadequate maintenance.

Degradation, lack of public awareness and active civil society, and governmental indifference all add to this sorry state of affairs. A concerted environmental activism for sustainable development and sustainability of water bodies is needed. It is high time all stakeholders involved themselves and learnt from past mistakes, says S. Chandran, Lecturer, Department of Civil Engineering, Thiagarajar College of Engineering

Community participation can help formulate a comprehensive management plan, which is ecologically viable and socially acceptable. Participation of people in watershed management and effective integrated water and waste water management, keeping in mind the future generation, is essential.

Kanagavalli, Team Leader, Dhan Vayalagam Foundation, says supply channels are being encroached and dumped with garbage, resulting in narrowing down of channels. To prevent encroachment, walls have been built along Pandalkudi canal.

She also said that emphasis should be laid on rainwater harvesting, water recycling and reuse. Moreover, residents’ welfare associations, schools and colleges should put in more determined efforts to create awareness among the public and youth.