It is an irony that a city with about three dozen lakes and a wetland ecosystem is running short of water, ground as well as surface, just a month after the monsoon. Mindless urbanisation and misplaced development priorities now threaten the very existence of the centuries-old lakes.
The main feeder for the lakes, the Noyyal, is almost dead, and so flood waters no more flow into them. A bad monsoon year now leaves the lakes dry as early as January. Dumping of domestic and industrial sewage and encroachment by not just the homeless but by state authorities in the name of building public utilities (see accompanying story) have added to the burden of the water bodies. In short, it is a depressing picture and it portends a bleak future for the city, unless we act immediately.
Corporation authorities concede that water levels in the lakes have gone down by about 100 cubic feet in the last two years. They have dipped from 300 cubic feet to 200 cubic feet, affecting the availability of ground water across the city, say officials. A senior official with the ground water section in the public works department said water table has fell by nearly 3 to 4.5 metre in several areas of city and its surroundings like Sulur and Mettupalayam. As per data collected from monitoring wells, water level has dipped to an alarming level between 8 and 15 metre from the earlier depth of 4 metre. With rainfall this season 56% less compared to 2011, the situation is alarming.
Among the areas that face a serious water crisis are Sultanpettai in Sulur block, Madukkarai, Kattampatti, Andipallayam and parts of Avinashi. Underground water sources have been over-exploited to the extent that water, which used to be found at a depth of 7 to 8 metre some years ago, is not to be found now even at a depth of 700 feet. Indiscriminate digging of bore wells is said to have triggered the crisis along with the destruction of lakes.
"It is a strange situation in Coimbatore. Even when lakes and wells are dying, the number of borewells is increasing. So are companies engaged in the business of selling bottled water. The whole district is now heading towards a severe water crisis,'' said environmental activist R Mohammed Saleem.
Environmental activists blame the government and local bodies for the destruction of the lakes. "Ukkadam bus stand was constructed by filling a lake some years ago. Now Kurichi bus stand is coming up on lake bed. Lakes are now being used for all illegal activities and encroachment is severe. Letting sewage water to lakes continuing unabated,'' points out M Umesh of Save Coimbatore Wetlands.
"Three years ago, the city corporation took control of eight major lakes. But officials now tell us that they are not in a position to maintain the lakes as they have no funds. They also added that their main priorities now are drainage, water supply and road maintenance," said Saleem. He added that when PWD was in-charge of the water bodies, it had deployed guards to prevent dumping of garbage and debris into lakes,'' he says.
The corporation took over Ukkadam, Valankulam, Selvampathi, Narasampathi, Singanallur, Selvachinthamani, Krishnampathi and Kumarasamy lakes from the PWD on a 90-year lease in 2010. It had plans to introduce commercial activities including water sports. However, the proposal was shelved due to lack of funds and opposition from green activists in the city.
According to local folklore, these wetlands were built by the Kongu Chola kings 800 years ago to channelized the water resources of the Noyyal effectively for cultivation and other needs. "Wetlands are not only the most productive eco-systems in the world but also support the eco-system around them. They have helped to preserve many aquatic species and host migratory birds. The wetlands have played an important role in controlling floods and pollution, hence it is imperative to preserve them," says Dr E J James, head, Institute of Water at Karunya University.
City Corporation commissioner in-charge S Sivarasu said efforts are on to channelize funds for restoration of city lakes. "We have submitted a detailed proposal demanding financial aid under JnNURM scheme for a total makeover of city lakes. Hope the demand would be materialized,'' he said.