“Whenever I got some time off my hectic corporate job in Bengaluru, I used to head home. My native village, nestled in the foothills of the Kolli Malai in Tamil Nadu, is a predominantly tribal area. Around three years ago, I went for a small trek in the Kolli Hills. Standing atop the summit, I was shocked to see the parched lands all around, which once used to soothe my eyes with a lush green cover. I saw an old woman with trembling legs walking for miles to fill her water pot. That pained me deeply,” narrates Saravanan, the founder of Wake Our Lake, an organisation which has actively revived the water resources in Kolli Hills. Talking to Efforts For Good, he shares how their untiring efforts have rejuvenated the water bodies and relieved the local communities of a drought-like situation. Motivated by their work, farmers of Kolli Malai are now digging ponds and canals, raising funds all by themselves.
The area was drought-ridden
A shocked Saravanan undertook a detailed survey of the entire area, trying to identify the root cause of the crisis. His findings revealed that the groundwater level in the area had depleted drastically, with 800-1000 feet deep borewells gone dry. Most of the natural vegetation in the area has dried up, forests were dying, and the crops were failing. “Palm trees are one of the most water-resilient plants. When I saw the weak and dying palm trees, I understood the gravity of the situation,” he shares.
For a farming community with little means to afford modern methods of irrigation or water conservation, the situation was deplorable. Even drinking water was becoming scarce. Saravanan was a known face among the tribals, thanks to his efforts to improve the infrastructure of the tribal schools in the area. So he considered it his responsibility to figure out a permanent solution.
While stuck in Bengaluru traffic, a determined Saravanan used to interact with experts, water conservation activists and enthusiastic volunteers. “Getting permission from the Forest Department was a major challenge, as they were apprehensive about our efficiency, and so were the villagers,” reveals Saravanan. However, nothing could dampen his spirit.
Lake rejuvenation projects by Wake Our Lake
Soon Saravanan devised a step-by-step plan and launched the Wake Our Lake initiative in 2017, starting with the Thendral Lake project in Narasiman Kadu village. There was not a drop of water in the lake, and its wide catchment area had shrunken in the absence of an inlet channel.
“I have so many memories associated with this lake. I and my friends used to play in the surrounding mango orchard. All of that was gone now, and I resolved to revisit that nostalgia,” he shares.
The Wake Our Lake team manually started digging a 1 km long canal from the adjacent hills to the lake. The farmers were doubtful, only ten or twenty of them offered their support to the team. “When the rains came, the lake was filled overnight. The farmers could not believe their eyes,” narrates Saravanan.
The most notable project of Wake Our Lake has to be the Panjapatti Lake rejuvenation. Due to the overabundance of a flowering weed, the entire catchment area and natural flora were slowly drying up. “We spread awareness among the villagers, and every weekend they actively participated in manual weeding,” he adds, “But our strenuous efforts failed to be at par with the vigorous growth rate of the plant.” Teaming up with a green power generation company, they deployed a special crawler machine that uproots, crushes and converts the weed into reusable biomass.
Groundwater and forest cover
Guided by ISRO soil scientist Dr P. Velmurugan, the team turned towards groundwater restoration. Beside the withering Punnagai Lake, they constructed a deep rainwater recharge pit, while also building check dams and bunds in the connecting streams, all from locally available resources. The rainwater recharge pit worked beyond their expectations to replenish the groundwater levels. Their success inspired the neighbouring villagers to implement similar projects.
“A lot of NSS candidates from local schools and colleges volunteered for this project. Honestly, we never faced any dearth of volunteers and well-wishers who generously donated for our project,” reveals a proud Saravanan.
Wake Our Lake has now collaborated with Indian Institute of Science to plant seed-balls in the barren lands and reinstate the teeming green cover in the region.
Saravanan has documented the entire flowchart of lake rejuvenation to encourage everyone to pay attention to water conservation in their area.
Water crisis is a problem plaguing many parts of India at present. Climate change has caused worsening of the situation beyond control. An enthusiastic endeavour like Wake Our Lake must be applauded. Efforts For Good hopes more youngsters take up the example of Saravanan to work in conserving their lakes and water bodies.
Know more about Wake Our Lake at https://www.facebook.com/wakeourlake/