Madurai

Will Madurai withstand flood havoc?

Naganakulam tank, one of the few waterbodies still 'alive' in the city. Photo: G.Moorthy

Naganakulam tank, one of the few waterbodies still 'alive' in the city. Photo: G.Moorthy  

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When the Vaigai’s banks overflowed in 1993, north Madurai was literally afloat

"The tanks and lakes to be found in the country are too few, and for want of occasional digging up and cleansing are often found silted up and too shallow to hold any large quantities of water. Nor is any attention paid to improving the facilities for gathering rainwater falling over large areas of land into existing tanks and reservoirs.” - The Hindu, May 10, 1900.

One hundred and fifteen years later, the situation has changed only for the worse. “Eriyin vaazhvuthannai plottugal kavvum! Eruthiyil eriye vellum.” This is one of the many wisecracks doing the rounds in the social media after the recent torrential rains in northern districts. It reflects the price people have to pay for mindless development. The scenario this year is different in Madurai. Here, the case is “water, water everywhere, not in Madurai.”

Madurai was a city of tanks. It owns the distinction of covering most of its waterbodies with concrete. In the case of Chennai, it is the death of scores of water sources that resulted in flooding and dislocation of people. Madurai cannot forget the saying “Madakulam udainthaal Madurai paazh.”

Will Madurai withstand a flood a la 1993? When the Vaigai’s banks overflowed in 1993, north Madurai was literally afloat. Water came up to Anna Nagar and K.K. Nagar in the north and Government Rajaji Hospital was marooned. Sellur tank breach dealt a mortal blow on the traditional handloom industry. The reasons for the flood havoc were the death of tanks and ponds and encroachments on flood carriers.

R. Seenivasan, water expert with Dhan Foundation, is of the view that Madurai, more than Chennai, cannot withstand a flood onslaught for the simple reason that the Vaigai bisects the city. Seven channels drain surplus water from tanks from the north of Vaigai and seven others serve as feeder channels in the south. Since all these channels are either encroached or in disuse, ferocity of water passing through them will be high. “We have killed the channels and storage tanks. Water also has memory and it remembers its earlier course.”

Since the Pandya period, canals and ponds had been dug up to carry water from the Vaigai mainly for irrigation. But these waterbodies have been filled up in the name of development now. Worse is the case of Kiruthumal, a legendary river, which had 75 tanks under its command. It now runs as a narrow sewage channel in the city. Of the four major temple tanks – Mariamman Teppakulam, Koodal Azhagar Perumal Teppam, Tallakulam Teppakulam and Ramar Oorani – three are dry and the biggest one has to be fed with water for the annual teppam festival of the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple.

According to a research work of National Institute of Technology, Tiruchi, there were 46 irrigation tanks around Madurai once. The city got its first storm water carrier in 1902 and most of the channels were laid prior to 1965.

Since Madurai region has chains of tanks, the hydraulic linkage of the chain is broken when a single tank or channel is encroached. This results in flooding of habitations and reduced flow into other dependent tanks, says J. Kanagavalli, Programme Leader, Dhan Foundation.

The concern of S. Chandran, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, Thiagarajar College of Engineering, is protection of existing tanks. “Our main problem will be safe discharge of runoff water into water carriers.” This will become difficult when infiltration capacity of the soil reaches the maximum due to sustained rainfall. “The rainfall of yesterday plays a crucial role in today’s runoff,” he says.

Since the city has a paved surface all over, the runoff will be high. But the existing drains are inadequate to function as flood carriers. The Tamil Nadu Protection of Tanks and Eviction of Encroachment Act, 2007, should be enforced to punish encroachers, he says.

The earliest recorded flood in the Vaigai was in December 1677. Subsequent flooding happened on December 18, 1709, November 1814, December 1843, 1844, November 30 and December 22, 1922, and in recent times in 1977 and 1993.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2018 7:37:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/will-madurai-withstand-flood-havoc/article7932533.ece

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