Sasthamcotta Lake crying for protection

The State’s largest freshwater lake and one of the 26 Ramsar sites in the country, Sasthamcotta Lake in the district is fast becoming a grassland.

While there are frequent government announcements of substantial fund allocations for conservation measures, nothing seems to be done for the lake which has been drying up fast since the last one decade. A large section of people concerned over the plight of the lake say that the so-called campaigns by environmental groups for the protection of the lake are also cosmetic exercises.

A good portion of the 3.73-sq km lake has turned lush grassland which is now being utilised by local farmers for grazing their livestock. Even farmers from distant places come to harvest the grass for their cattle.

But, after dusk, the grassland becomes a safe haven for antisocial elements. Drunken brawls have become common posing a threat to the local people. The causeway over the 1.5-km-long Velinthara bund of the lake is providing an approach road to the grassland. The lakebed is strewn with liquor bottles, most of which are broken.

Meanwhile, environment activists say the grassland phenomenon indicates that the lake is in a critical phase. If the lake waters cover the grassland during the coming monsoon season, it can prove disastrous for the lake’s ecosystem. When the grass gets decayed, it will produce methane and result in eutrophication (a process where water bodies receive excess nutrients that stimulate excessive plant growth).

Environment enthusiast V.K. Madhusudanan says that the clay coating of the lakebed is getting baked by the sun, virtually sealing the natural aquifers of the lake which are already weak.

Some portions of the lakebed at its Ambalakadavu course, which has turned into grassland, are now being used as a shortcut road by many. This development exposes the lake to more pollution.

Mr. Madhusudanan points out that this year the volume of rainfall in the lake area had dropped by over 39 per cent. But the major threat to the lake is the gaping abysses in the adjacent West Kallada area created by unauthorised sand mining. These abysses, which are more than 40-m deep, are spread over an area of one sq km. A good portion of the water which should have remained in the lake has seeped into these abysses.

He alleges that in spite of the lake being a threatened Ramsar site, the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority has not made a single intervention to save it. The State government has been showing a criminal negligence to the lake. Even in this terminal stage, the lake continues to be the major drinking water source for Kollam city and several panchayats. “But for how long,” he asks.