Adopt a River

by Tropical Institute of Ecological Sciences
Adopt a River
Adopt a River
Adopt a River
Adopt a River
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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Velloorthodu after desilting and deweeding
Velloorthodu after desilting and deweeding

1200 acre of paddy polders (low lying areas) at Vijayapuram, Manarcaud, and Ayarkunnam Gram Panchayat areas are part of Meenachil-Meenanthara watershed of Kottayam district. As a result of interventions under the Meenachil-Meenathara-Kodoor River Relinking Project, paddy cultivation was restarted in this area two years ago. But during the last week of February 2020, these polders were reeling under severe water shortage leading to drying up of rice plants. Each polder has a farmers’ collective and there are seven such collectives in the area. TIES and the Meenachil-Meenathara-Kodoor Relinking Peoples’ collective (MMKRP) convened a meeting with the farmers’ collectives to develop a solution for this emergency.

TIES water team surveyed the entire stretch of Velloorthodu, the main stream that provides water to every polder, and met leaders of the farmer collectives. The team took readings of water levels at different stretches of rivulet and analysed the situation. Based on this information, TIES suggested the following

  1. Refitting the pumping facility (traditional system of Pettiyum Parayum) at Vadavathoor bund;
  2. Clearing a 210-meter long rivulet and putting in 2-3 temporary bunds; and
  3. Constructing a new check dam at Onattu Kadavu, near Thiruvanchoor.

With the help of Minor Irrigation and Agriculture departments, Govt. of Kerala, the refitting of Pettiyum Parayum (traditional water pumping mechanism), restoration of rivulets and construction of temporary check dam were completed within three days. The cleaning process was an intensive one requiring heavy machinery and it was a proud moment when the water reached the paddy fields that had severely impacted by the water shortage. Now the entire crop is safe and the farmers are expecting a good harvest. 

Besides the rivulets and stretches of the Meenanthara-Velloor rivers now having a good flow of water I them because of this intervention, ground water resources like wells and ponds have also been recharged by the fresh surge of water. This has solved the drinking water crisis in the entire area, benefitting about 1000 families and 4500 individuals. The farmers' collective has since taken on the responsibility to clean and maintain the rivulet ensuring sustainability of the initiative.

Meeting with the Farmers' Collectives
Meeting with the Farmers' Collectives
Choked waterway near Vadavathoor bund
Choked waterway near Vadavathoor bund
Velloorthodu was almost dried up
Velloorthodu was almost dried up
Deweeding and desilting using heavy machinery
Deweeding and desilting using heavy machinery
Refitted traditional water pumping mechanism
Refitted traditional water pumping mechanism
Refitted pump set at work
Refitted pump set at work
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Palamuri Rivulet Restoration
Palamuri Rivulet Restoration

Meenachil-Meenathar-Kodoor River Relinking: Rejuvenating the Palamuri Rivulet

The Palamuri is a perennial rivulet in Thiruvanjoor area of Kottayam District in Kerala. It is an approximately 1.5 to 2 km rivulet starting at the Meenachil River and passing through paddy fields before ending in a wetland. As rivulets go, the Palamuri is quite large at 10 metres wide. The Palamuri bridge spans the rivulet and is a local landmark. This rivulet had been neglected for years and was choked by dumped domestic waste, proliferating weeds, and collapsed banks. Rivulet restoration and rejuvenation activities were conducted along the Palamuri. The aim of this activity was to provide free flow of water through 500 meters of the rivulet to promote cultivation in about 30-40 acres of paddy fields dependent on this stretch of the waterbody.

A length of 500 metres was cleaned using heavy machinery (JCBs). Dumped waste was removed and the rivulet was deweeded and desilted. Both banks were cleaned and reinforced where it had collapsed. It took 3 days to restore 500 metres and the rivulet now has a depth of 6 feet with free flow of water.

Since the river relinking project bagan, more than 2000 acres of abandoned paddy fields have been brought back in to cultivation, but few isolated pockets such as the Palamuri system remain. Restoring the remaining length of the Palamuri rivulet will enable paddy cultivation in almost 150 more acres  of abandoned fields.

 

Manimala River: Changing Course towards Sustainability

In association with the Ente Manimalayar Peoples Collective, two activities took place starting from the Pazhayidom check dam area

  1. Cleanup Drive: Plastic and other non-degradable wastes clogged near Pazhayidom Check dam, near Manimala were removed. Student volunteers collected plastic wastes trapped in lowlying tree branches along the river bank. At the check dam itself, a large amount of waste plus plant debris including branches and small tree trunks (washed down during the flood) was trapped. This was snagged and drawn up to the bank. The quantity is estimated at about a couple of hundred kilogram of plastic waste alone. The waste was dried and sorted and transported to the recycling unit by the Haritha Karma Sena workers.
  2. Bamboo plantation drive: 800 bamboo saplings were planted along the Manimala river banks to improve riparian vegetation and prevent soil erosion. A total of almost 4 km has been covered during the plantation drive. The plantations are being done on both banks of the river depending on soil condition. About 20 saplings were planted during the inauguration ceremony at check dam area. This site was found vandalized a couple of days later with the saplings ripped out. The area has since been been replanted with fresh bamboo saplings.

Manimala River Conservation is the group effort of TIES, Ente Manimalayar (My Manimala River) People's Collective and Haritha Keralam Mission (Green Kerala Mission) of the Kerala State Government.
 
For the abovementioned activities, TIES jointly worked with Haritha Kerala Mission, Department of Forests & Wildlife (Social Forestry Division), Govt. of Kerala, Manimala Gram Panchayat, Kanjirappally Gram Panchayat, and Erumely Gram Panchayat. Haritha Karma Sena workers, NSS volunteers from St. Dominic’s College (Kanjirappally), St.Mary's College (Manarcaud) and SPC students from NSS School (Manimala) participated in the cleaning and greening drive.

These efforts may seem small when considered individually. But considering the number of people who took time out to work together to make the activities a success, it becomes obvious that the ripple of change is starting to reach more and more people in the community. Thanks to your support, we will be able to restore, conserve and project many more kilometers of river and many more acres of land.

Manimala River Cleaning and Greening
Manimala River Cleaning and Greening
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Boating on the Meenanthara at Elipulikkattukadavu
Boating on the Meenanthara at Elipulikkattukadavu

Rejuvenation of riverine system is an approach to conserve the riverbed, riparian ecosystem and most importantly, the watershed. It aids re-establishing adequate flow of water in rivulets that have been encroached or have dried up. The sustainability of such an initiative is entirely dependent on community participation. 

Meenachil is the main river passing through 34 Gram Panchayats and 4 municipalities in Kottayam district in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Meenanthara and Kodoor rivers are its tributaries. These three rivers were connected in the past at many locations through small streams and rivulets (puzha), but many such connections have since been lost because of change in land use and encroachments. Cutting off small water channels in this manner has resulted in thousands of acres of paddy fields turning barren. The Meenachil River was once an ideal breeding ground for more than 70 varieties of fishes but now the aquatic diversity has been drastically depleted because of decreasing inflow of water. Illegal sand mining has also altered the original course of the river.

Meenachil-Meenanthara-Kodoor Rejoining Peoples Collective (MMKRPC) evolved to rejuvenate these three rivers by re-joining them through the connecting rivulets and streams. As technical partner to this massive project, TIES has the responsibility for research, developing initiatives, implementing activities and reaching out to potential partners to support project activities such as the one at Elipulikkattukadavu.

River Relinking at Elipulikkattukadavu

Elipulikkattukadavu is on the Meenanthara river near Kottayam. The area is criss-crossed with a number of distorted and polluted rivulets. In some locations, the original paths of the streams had been completely blocked by soil deposition, weed growth and dumped household waste. During the course of this project, obstructions to free flow of water were removed, rivulet banks reinforced and, wherever necessary, new bridges were constructed for ease of access.

There was hands-on participation with the community turning out in force armed with shovels and buckets. Heavy machinery had to used in some instances when illegal encroachments were removed or restrained. The work was accomplished with all sections of the community participating; farmers, local women self-help groups, government officers including representatives of Agriculture and Irrigation Departments, agriculture engineers, scientists, researchers, elected representatives etc.

As a result of this initiative. the revived rivers recharged open wells nearby which helped hundreds of households overcome hydrological drought during the summer of 2018, As part of the project, over 1200 acres of abandoned fields have been restored with paddy cultivation after 20-25 years. Also, during the 2018 flood disaster in Kerala, these rejuvenated rivulets helped in flood control by enabling free onward flow of water.

With the restart of agriculture, the farmers have taken on the responsibility of keeping the water flow uninterrupted and unpolluted, turning formerly abandoned and waste-choked rivulets into beautiful inland waterways.

The project that began at Elipulikkattukadavu and has restored around 156 km of rivulets and streams. Almost 55 rivulets were restored as part of this. The Meenachil-Meenathara-Kodoor river complex still has more than 3000 small streams and rivulets that have been killed by neglect. Reviving these areas would give a new lease of life to many acres of farmlands. These areas are being mapped and the community engaged with in preparation for similar projects.

We usually hear of rivers bringing life to man, but with your support, we have been able to bring life to rivers. We cannot thank you enough for being a part of this massive effort and we look forward to sending you more updates on our activities.

Community participation
Community participation
Kanjikuzhy Canal - before and after intervention
Kanjikuzhy Canal - before and after intervention
Meenachil-Meenanthara-Kudoor Relinking Map
Meenachil-Meenanthara-Kudoor Relinking Map
Padiyarakkadavu Inland Waterway
Padiyarakkadavu Inland Waterway
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Green scum at the Karimpukkayam check dam
Green scum at the Karimpukkayam check dam

TIES was called out in mid-May 2019 to investigate the aftermath of a thick green scum that appeared in the Manimala river from Karimpukayam check dam to Cheruvally Pallyppadi in Kottayam, Kerala. This seemed to be algal bloom and was first noticed about in April 2019 by residents of the area and suspected to be caused by industrial waste from a nearby rubber factory. The thick viscous green scum covered a 2 km stretch of the river. By the time TIES was appraised of this situation, the pre monsoon showers had already diluted the waste and washed it downstream, but the original location was marked by dead algae.

Microbiologists from TIES collected samples of water from this point and from three other points further downstream to identify the contaminant and extent of contamination. Manalalil (2.5 km downstream from Karimbukayyam Check dam), Thayyikkayyam (1 km downstream form Manalalil), Cheruvalli Pallipady (2 km downstream from Thayikkayam).

The collected water samples were tested for physical and biological properties including pH, conductivity, total dissolved solids (TDS), salinity, chlorine levels, total hardness, calcium & magnesium & iron levels, dissolved oxygen, presence of E. coli, etc.

There were high levels of oil and grease present in the samples and phosphate, fluoride and iron levels were also elevated, indicating the presence of industrial effluent, possibly sludge from rubber processing units beside the river. The total dissolved oxygen level was very low while biological oxygen demand (BOD) was high. This is bound to negatively impact aquatic fauna and sure enough, organic carbon levels were high as well. Comparing test results from all points along the river, it was seen that the chemical components were deceasing downstream while oil and organic carbon levels increased.

The results also showed that coliform bacteria including E.coli was found in very high levels indicating contamination from septic waste. Rubber sludge also can contribute to E.coli presence. Currently, there is no treatment system for domestic sewage and the soak pits allow percolation of black water into the river. This is a cause for concern as the water from the Manimala river is pumped into homes and is freely used by residents for bathing, cleaning, and washing clothes etc. For the past month, the residents had been complaining of itchy skin and a foul smell in the water, most likely related to the sudden inflow of industrial waste. People have since even stopped bathing livestock (cows and buffaloes) in this water due to the appearance of pale patches on the animals’ skin. The river water is also pumped into neighboring lands for purposes other than consumption, such as irrigation.

Results of these tests have been shared with the residents of the area. They were informed that had these tests been conducted when the bloom first occurred, it would have been much more conclusive as to identifying the point source of pollution.

The problem of untreated domestic waste can be handled by the installation of a small sewage treatment plant or a bio-gas plant in the area. Currently, there is an apprehension among the residents about odors and possibility of disease stemming from collecting and storing human waste close to their homes. These apprehensions can only be cleared by intensive awareness campaigns followed by installing a small sewage treatment or bio-gas plant that will put their fears to rest.

Lack of waste management is the biggest danger that the Manimala river faces. Your support can help us reach out to the community and show them that managing and treating waste at the domestic level is not as daunting a task as it seems. We will be starting with awareness campaigns and moving on to implementing waste management solutions.

The Manimala River is stunningly beautiful, with banks rich with brightly colored birds and insects and waters home to a wide variety of aquatic flora and fauna, some of which are not found anywhere else in India or the world. If the community does not engage and check the flow of pollutants into the river, this vibrant ecosystem will gradually turn into a dark and silent river of waste.

Algal Bloom
Algal Bloom
Water Quality Testing
Water Quality Testing
Dead algae in the river
Dead algae in the river
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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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