Tuesday 22 October 2019

River Walk - Tracing the Adyar River from source to estuary

Have you been on a river walk? You may have had different results. Here are ours:

Our river walk trip traced the stages of the Adyar river. And how we as humans living in Chennai are making it hard for a river to flow clean.

1st Stop – Chembarambakkam Lake

First, we went to explore the Chembarambakkam Lake or Eri. The bus didn’t have a road so we went by the bund. Which was really long and we felt like we were travelling on a long rocky road.

Chembarambakkam provides drinking water to most of Chennai.  It covers an area of 2600 acres and is 80 feet deep. The bigger picture is really that it is an Eri. It was designed long ago by village people.  There was lush agriculture near the eri, which used the eri water. There are the basic components of an eri in the Chembarambakkam “Lake”. But industries have been built over the agricultural lands. Some of the chemicals produced by the industries enter the eri.  

The amount of water in the lake was very less but at least better than last few months. In June, the water was gone, and the ground was all cracked up.  Which makes it hard to believe that the same lake overflowed and flooded half of Chennai city in 2015!

In the eri itself, there is something called a “kalang”.  You have a kind of a screw you have to twist and the doors sort of open and let the water out into a channel. The water goes to the field and helps in irrigation. But, now the Kalang doesn’t work because now the fields have been turned into buildings and industries. 

43% of the water in that lake is gone by evaporation. Near the Bandh there is something called “Madaga” which is the big dam which stopped the flowing of the eri water. We went close to the dam’s gates and saw the structures. There are a total of 19 gates. We went to a high point and observed the whole Eri.

In 2015 when the floods took place in Chennai, the dam stored a lot of water and the gates weren’t open even when the water came up to 90% - because the dam’s purpose is to store water for drinking. And if they opened the gates, the drinking water would have gone out.  But the dam was about to overflow, so they opened the gates in the night when everyone was sleeping. This caused the houses near the Eri and in Saidapet, Adyar, Velachery, Guindy to flood.

Visiting Chembarambakkam was a wonderful experience, but the saddest part was there was garbage even here.

Next we stopped at a garbage dump next to the road. It was raining and we saw fumes because there was so much toxic waste. Cows were eating the garbage. The garbage was also flowing into the river as it was raining.

2nd Stop Anakaputhur – Under the Bridge

We headed on to Anakaputhur.  Here we went under the bridge to a sandbank under which the Adyar river flows. It was horrible, smelly and slimy place filled with sewage. Yuk. The water was black and highly alkaline because of the leather industries releasing chemicals into the water. During rains, the garbage from the rubbish dumps gets washed out and joins the river.  The river flowed under the bank in pipes. But there weren’t a lot of pipes. There was foam there due to toxic contamination.

3rd Stop – Mambalam Canal/ Adyar River

Next we went to see the Mambalam Canal where it joins the Adyar river, next to a golf course. Of course, we didn’t go to play! The water was really black and polluted. It was also stinky and crazily dumped in, but hey, nowadays, everything is dumped in.  The golf course uses soft grass which requires a lot of water and fertilizers every week. This leaches into the canal. 

Plus, there is garbage in the canal. There is a “boom” which is a filter across the canal to trap solid garbage, but it was of little use so it’s not maintained.  There was a plant name water hyacinth which eats metals in the water. But it covers the water and reduces the oxygen in the water. There was another weed growing in huge clumps.  So basically, there is not a lot of wildlife in the water.  We went across the path to see the top view of the Adyar River. It was not fine. We saw mosquito larvae and other disgusting polluted stuff.  It was really disheartening to look and realise that all of us have destroyed a water body so much.

4th Stop – Adyar Estuary/ Besant Nagar Beach

All that disgusting stuff now went to the sea. There also, like every other place, it was unbearably stinky. But differently. You can’t believe how much foam was there on the beach. Waves and waves of foaming effluent.  We were sitting far away but still it was smelling worse than rotten eggs.  There was a sandbank between the river and the sea which is good for filtration. But a JCB was taking that out since there were buildings near the estuary who were facing a mosquito problem.


This trip was sad but eye opening because now I am able to realise what we did to Nature. I also realised that the water I am saving is not enough. Next time you go to the beach and play in the water, think, what you are really stepping into. That same water with the pollution of the river – has fish living in it and we eat the fish! A “sewage cycle”, isn’t it?

- By Grade 7 students - Shahana, Rayya, Hasna & Tasneem

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