Adopt a River

by Tropical Institute of Ecological Sciences
Adopt a River
Adopt a River
Adopt a River
Adopt a River
Accumulated plastic waste collecting
Accumulated plastic waste collecting

The recent extended spell of rain in Kerala has made havoc in many river beds. Cloud burst and heavy rain lashed out at high ranges of Manimala and Meenachil River led to serious losses to the residents of the locality.

Relentless showers have raised concerns over climate change in Kerala. It is assumed from the available studies that microclimatic changes have triggering and intensifying impacts on the monsoon. And the recent IPCC reports say that India will see even more precipitation and more frequent and intense heatwaves in the years to come because of global warming.

Cloudburst and associated flash floods at Pathanamthitta and Kottayam Districts in Kerala resulted in water level rise at Pamba, Manimala, Meenachil Rivers, etc. This has affected the river hydrology extensively and fractured many ecosystems, especially at Manimala River. After the heavy rain, the Manimala River has dried up excessively. This has negatively affected the aquatic ecosystem and riverine ecosystem. TIES halted conservation programs after the disasters.

Now it is planned to restart conservation activities, imbibing disaster management principles. Initiatives through local schools and colleges began, with awareness campaigns, cleaning drive, improving riparian vegetation, and restoring native fish diversity. A major intervention for providing livelihood support to the communities in the disaster-prone areas, also on the anvil. 

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Water sample collection
Water sample collection

Manimala River - an important waterway of Central Travancore, which flows through the districts Kottayam, Idukki (in Kerala) and afterwards joins with Pampa, another major river of Kerala - is highly polluted due to the effluent discharge from nearby factories and other outlets. This has posed serious health risks to the river bank community.

The recent water quality studies of the Manimala River shows that the water quality in the river is above the permissible limits. A total of 10 samples were collected and that includes water samples as well as effluent samples. At these stations physical as well as biological parameters were tested. The pH of the samples showed a variation in many regions, as there are regions were pH level is below and above the permissible limit. Micropollutants, heavy metals, factory and toilet discharge, market wastes, etc. are the major source of pollutants in the river. These sources are directly releasing untreated sewage waste into the river. The samples collected showed very low level of TDS in the river, which inturn reduces the level of useful minerals to the people who is depending on the river as a source of drinking water. The water quality of is highly depleted which has made the water unusable by the community even to meet their basic water requirement. At every point there is the presence of faecal coliform bacteria's. During our study community responded that they are facing diarrhoea and other physical issues and the major reason behind this is due the infectious pathogens which they get exposed while drinking contaminated water. This may also lead to other diseases like helminth infections, cholera, etc.

Recognizing the importance of the public health threat of drinking contaminated water, TIES is striving through its awareness and research initiatives - to make people accessible to safe drinking water- to reach the Sustainable development goal. As a result of this water quality studies will be widening to more regions which will help in identifying sources of pollution. Manimala river is a source of recreational activities, water supply for irrigation, bathing, drinking, washing, etc. This will inturn increases the exposure to pathogens.

This polluted water is posing risk to the public health, food security and the economy. TIES is continuously undergoing studies that provide data which is critical in understanding the underlying causes and thereby improving the policies which include source control, waste treatment, ecosystem management and other forms of local governance. 

A bathing ghat
A bathing ghat
Sample collection nearby a building waste outlet
Sample collection nearby a building waste outlet
Toilet's at the river bank
Toilet's at the river bank
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Pistia floating over Manimala River
Pistia floating over Manimala River

 

Unabated pollution again made the Manimala River in news. Suspected pollution from a nearby rubber factory created panic among the riverine community. TIES as part of its conservation efforts tested water samples from 5 (Irukudil- Chenapady; open well; Koyikkall Kadavu; Pazhayidam Checkdam; Poothakuzhy Checkdam; Kanjirappally – Parathodu) locations at Manimala River and the parameters such as pH, conductivity, total dissolved solvents, salinity, acidity, alkalinity, chlorinity, total hardness, calcium ions, magnesium ions, total iron, sulphate, nitrate, chloride were found within the permissible limit in all the collected water samples. Fluoride content was found above the permissible limit in all the collected samples. It may be due to the leaching of fluoride ions from fluoride-containing rocks or soil into the river. But the Phosphate content was found above the permissible limit in the samples collected from Koyikkall Kadavu (Upstream of Karimpukayam Check Dam) and 26th mile bridge, Kanjirapally. It may be due to natural decomposition or from industrial discharge to the river. A rubber factory is working at Irukudil Close to Karimpumkayam. Water samples were collected from both upstream as well as downstream to find out the extent of pollution and it is shocking that the oil content was found above the permissible limit in all the collected samples and may be due to waste oil disposal or leakage from oil sources.

The Dissolved oxygen level is below the permissible limit at Koyikkal Kadavu, Pazhayidam Check dam, Poothakuzhy check dam and in 26th mile bridge. The decline is due to the overconsumption of oxygen than it is produced, which indicates that the pollution level is high and is highly life-threatening for the life underwater. BOD level was found to be very high in all the collected samples. BOD directly affects the amount of dissolved oxygen in rivers and streams. The greater the BOD, the more rapidly oxygen is depleted in the stream. This means less oxygen is available to higher forms of aquatic life. The consequences of the high BOD are the same as those for low dissolved oxygen: aquatic organisms become stressed, suffocate, and die. Sources of BOD include leaves and woody debris; dead plants and animals; animal manure; effluents from pulp and paper mills, wastewater treatment plants, feedlots, and food-processing plants; failing septic systems; and urban stormwater runoff.The organic carbon count is also high at Kanjirapally -Parathodu region and it may be due to the effluents from the nearby workshops. 

Rather than industrial and other anthropogenic reasons, faecal (human or animal excreta) contamination is also posing threat to river health. Total coliform count, faecal coliform count and E. coli were found above the permissible limit in all the collected samples. Even though India is declared as Open Defecation Free (ODF) the situation is certainly not. The lack of safer toilet technologies and faecal sludge management is the main reason for this. Faecal matter is received from nearby houses and hotels (which is constructed on the KK Road (Kottayam-Kumly Highway) side). This has resulted in the blooming of aquatic weeds like Pistia (Water lettuce) and Eichhornia (Water hyacinth).

The residents are worried that the continued contamination of the river could expose them to communicable diseases.

Water sample collection
Water sample collection
Water sample collecting from nearby openwells
Water sample collecting from nearby openwells
Aquatic weeds in the river course
Aquatic weeds in the river course
Accumulated plastic waste during flood time
Accumulated plastic waste during flood time
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Inundated Paddy fields and clogged Velloor Thodu
Inundated Paddy fields and clogged Velloor Thodu

Rain in the month of January is an extremely unusual event in the climatic history of Kerala State,India. Kerala is normally known to have typical monsoonal climatic condition. The months from January to April is the summer season that is occasionally accompaniedwith erratic showers. In these past few weeks of January 2021, Kerala has received 73.1mm of rain during the very first week of January and this stands as the highest record during the last 71 years. The extraordinary rain created havoc for the farmers growing paddy, mango and vegetables in low lying areas.

Puncha (rice growing season of Kerala: November to March) cultivation of paddy in Meenachil Riverbed has recently now commenced after a little delay, and thousands of hectaresof paddyfields has got inundated beneath the rainwater. Rice saplings that are aged on an average 16-30days, are still submerged beneath the flood water in many areas.

TIES being in the forefront for the Meenachil River Rejuvenation Project responded immediately and rushed a Team into the fields of Kottayam District and extended every possible support to the farmers. The water from about 350 hectares of paddyfields drains through a main rivulet Velloor Thodu, which was blocked due to uprooted vegetation, weeds and a huge portion of plastic waste. TIES team:

  1. Helped the farmers to drain out the rainwater from the fields as quickly as possible.
  2. Blockages (like plastic waste, uprooted vegetation, etc.) were separated manually
  3. Activated the pumping system.

Rejuvenation of all-natural drainages is the lasting and permanent solution for the issue. TIES is also working collaboratively with the State Government too for other convergence projects.

Manually removing clogged wastes
Manually removing clogged wastes
Activated pumping system
Activated pumping system
Draining off water from Paddy Fields
Draining off water from Paddy Fields
Rejuvenated Velloor Thodu & Paddy Fields
Rejuvenated Velloor Thodu & Paddy Fields
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Peerumedu hill ranges from Amrithamedu
Peerumedu hill ranges from Amrithamedu

Amrithamedu is the highest point in the Kuttikkanam region of Peerumedu hill ranges in the Idukki district of Kerala. On the northern side of Amrithamedu is Madamakulam, a natural pond at the base of a waterfall. This region has a number of connected water bodies like the Uppukulam Reservoir and Vellapara Waterfalls. This chain of water bodies in and around this region form the source of tributaries that go on to form four major rivers – Meenachil, Manimala, Pampa, and Periyar.

The scenic beauty of this region with its lush forests and misty mountains is trekkers’ heaven. It is also known for its rich biodiversity including several rare and endemic species. However, this fragile ecosystem is under severe threat of degradation mainly due to pollution from animal farms and irresponsible waste disposal.

 A team of scientists from TIES together with leaders of Ente Manimala Ar Peoples Fraternity (people’s collective for the Manimala river), led by Dr. N. Jayaraj MLA, Subin S. Member- District Panchayat and Dr. Punnen Kurian, Secretary-TIES, visited the location to take stock of the on-the-ground situation. Forest Department officials guided the team to various locations in the region.

 The team identified 3 major causes for the extensive pollution of the entire stretch of water flow in the area:

  1. Direct seepage from a pig farm located in this location.
  2. Unchecked dumping of domestic solid waste on the hill slopes.
  3. Uncontrolled tourism and trekking activities in the area

 Technicians from TIES collected water samples from several locations in the streams from the top to the bottom of the hill range. Tests showed that all samples were heavily contaminated with coliform bacteria, organic wastes, low dissolved oxygen, etc.; all this in an area which is the point of origin for four major rivers of Kerala.

People all over the world have always trusted natural water in the hills to be pure. Trekkers to Amrithamedu have filled water bottles from the waterfalls and even drunk water straight from a mountain stream. Residents never considered the need to purify water before drinking. Nothing ever tasted better than that cold crystal clear water. But not anymore. Now the chain of water bodies in this region is foul-smelling at several locations and people rely on bottled drinking water.

TIES has taken up the matter with local authorities and also submitted a request to Kerala State Biodiversity Board to declare the region a Biodiversity Park in order to conserve the entire ecosystem. We are planning to place information boards and warning signs all through the region for generating awareness among the visitors. A study to document the rich biodiversity and unique ecosystem features has already begun and more conservation activities are in the pipeline.

We look forward to sharing reports on all these activities and more with you in the months to come. We are so very grateful to have you beside us protecting these beautiful rivers and forests of Kerala.

Amrithamedu Plateau
Amrithamedu Plateau
Polluting pig farm
Polluting pig farm
Waste dumped on slopes near Madamakulam
Waste dumped on slopes near Madamakulam
Collecting water samples at Uppukulam
Collecting water samples at Uppukulam
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Organization Information

Tropical Institute of Ecological Sciences

Location: Kottayam, Kerala - India
Website:
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Twitter: @InstituteTies
Project Leader:
Punnen Kurian
Kottayam, Kerala India
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