Chennai has an abundant wealth of water bodies, big and small. Small ponds in neighbourhoods help recharge ground water. Lakes attract many life forms and have an ecosystem of their own. Temple tanks have been around for centuries and help in water conservation. However, the entire network of water bodies that have been the source of life for the city has come under attack from rampant encroachment and various forms of pollution over the years.
The floods of 2015 and the drought faced by the city in 2019 are proof of the mismanagement of water in the city and the neglect of water bodies. Construction over the city’s wetlands, dumping of waste and sewage into lakes and ponds and the neglect of temple tanks have all contributed to the city’s fraught relationship with water.
In the aftermath of the catastrophic floods, the civic authorities and citizens felt the need to manage the city’s water bodies better. To this end, the smart cities mission in Chennai took up water bodies restoration as a key part of its agenda. Several efforts are underway at different places across the city. Various actors are involved in the work. Civic bodies, civil society organisations, a non-profit organisation, environment conservationists and corporate companies undertaking the work as part of their CSR outreach have all joined hands to restore Chennai’s water bodies.
One of the key organisations involved in the restoration efforts is the much-lauded Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), a conservation and habitat restoration group, functioning in the city for the past 13 years. EFI has its presence in 12 states across the country and works towards restoration of water bodies through a scientific approach that also involves local communities.
In a chat with Citizen Matters, Arun Krishnamurthy, the founder of EFI, outlines the process by which lake restorations are undertaken in the city. He says that each lake must be assessed individually, based on its size and function at the particular spot. Restoration work then commences with the aim of making the restored water body self-sustaining. Ideas such as constructed wetlands are implemented to improve the quality of the water that drains into the water body.
On the contribution from communities, Arun emphasises that the key driver is the sense of ownership that the community feels towards the water body. Once the restoration is complete, the community takes charge to ensure that harmful practices such as dumping of waste and sewage are not repeated.
Arun also speaks of the transformative power of volunteering. The organisation sees many who express their interest to volunteer in their efforts of water body conservation. He adds that there is a need to make environment conservation an attractive proposition in order to get more and more people interested to take part in these efforts.
Watch our full interview here to find out what the latest water body restored by the EFI is and how you can help save Chennai’s water lakes and ponds.
To know more about volunteering with EFI, visit their website.