Left high and dry

The now dry Hesarghatta lake in the outskirts of Bangalore, which has supplied water to the city for over a century, is a mute victim of environmental ravages. See our slide show.

‘Ooru-Neeru’, an Urban Space Event, was held by the Bangalore City Project (BCP) in Hessarghatta on 6th July, 2008. Organized for the BCP by S. Vishwanath, it was the fourth in a series such events by the organisation. Vishwanath, who is part of the Rain Water Club and Arghyam (public charitable foundation setup with a personal endowment from Rohini Nilekani and focussing on the water sector), writes extensively on water issues.

The BCP is an initiative of the Goethe-Institute, Max Mueller Bhavan, Bangalore. Its objective is to create a platform for art and culture, and to raise awareness of the histories and importance of various places in the city that have otherwise remained silent and veiled.

Slide show of the Water walk (all photographs by Rushalini Rajkumar)

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The members who had assembled at the Queens statue on M. G. Road at 9.00 AM on the appointed Sunday were ferried to Hessarghatta in three buses. The first stop was at Soladevanahalli where the Chamaraja Water Works is situated. The next stop was at Turubanahalli to view the remnants of the brick aqueduct. The final stop was at the Hesaraghatta Reservoir. Here the assembly looked at the volute siphon which was designed to prevent overflow of water when the lake was full. The system would suck water five times faster and direct it down stream into the Arkavathy River.

The event also included the experience of walking across the dried up lake and a visit to the Durgamba temple located on the bund. At the reservoir a group of students called Bhoomi Taayi Balaga (Friends of Mother Earth) from Doddaballapur sang a few folks songs to spread awareness on the issue. The group returned to the Queen’s statue at 3.00 PM.

Past Glory

The Hesaraghatta reservoir is located to the west of Bangalore at a distance of 24.5 km. The lake spreads across an area of around 1620 hectares. The first city water supply scheme to be situated outside the city, it had been providing drinking water since 1896 until it gradually dried up. Before that the city drew its water from tanks such as Dharmambudhi, Sampangi, Ulsoor and Sankey as well as a few local wells.

The lake was probably built in 1532 on the Arkavathy River; it was reconstructed in 1894 by the then Dewan of Mysore state, K. Sheshadri Iyer. The BWSSB, called the Chamaraja Water Works at Soladevanahalli was established in 1896. Till the Thippagondanahalli reservoir was commissioned in 1932-33, Hessarghatta remained the largest supplier of filtered water to the city. Later the city also sourced its water from the Torekadinahalli Reservoir.

According to Vishwanath ninety percent of the water supplied to Bangalore is hauled from the Cauvery and its tributaries and the other ten percent from T G Halli Lake. There are a total of 178-180 lakes across the Arkavathy River alone but most of them are extinct now, he added.

The brick aqueduct at Turubanahalli brought water to a distance and then steam powered pumps were used to channel it into the city. Thipaswamy, a retired officer of BWSSB said the Chamaraja Water Works had three pumps, two of which were used to supply to the residential areas which included the Jewel Filters in Malleshwaram and one of which was used to supply to the industrial areas like HMT and BHEL. The aqueduct was used until the 60s, after which underground pipelines were constructed to prevent pilferage of water by the villagers.

The total capacity of the reservoir is 0.997 TMC feet of water. Its highest fill was in 1981 (1280 MC feet) and the second highest was in 1988 (1140 MC feet). “I was in sixth standard in 88’ and the school gave us a holiday when the lake was filled. All of us came to watch the water gushing out of the six siphons” says Byatha N Jagadeesha, an advocate with the Alternative Law Forum (Bangalore) who is from the village Byatha which is on one side of the lake. Whereas in 2000 the lake received only 380 MC feet of water.

Present Plight

“When the lake dried up the villagers sourced the water from wells and then much later moved to bore wells” said Jagdeesha. Mahesh Bhat, a photojournalist and now a resident of Hessarghatta observed, “The reasons for the depletion of water is silting, sand mining, de-forestation, depletion of the Granite hills and digging of bore wells due to which groundwater level has reduced”. He also added that previously they had to dig around 70 feet to haul water but now there are places where they have to dig up to 1000 feet.

On either side of the lake, state and central government establishments are situated. A dance school named Nrityagram was also set up alongside the lake in 1990 by the late danseuse Protima Bedi. “These establishments prevented the encroachers from coming in. Otherwise we would have had an Arkavathy Mall by now” observed Bhat.

The event highlighted the fact that urbanization and the rapid growth in population has proved to be a bane in the case of Hessarghatta Reservoir. The catchments across the Arkavathy have eroded, and environmental activists as well as the residents of the area are concerned about the present state of the lake. They need the Government’s support financially and otherwise in order to rejuvenate the reservoir and to make it a reliable source of water for the city again.


  1. Deepa Mohan says:

    Great article, makes me feel even worse about missing this walk! 🙂

  2. Raja Chandra says:

    After the untimely death of the Maharaja Chamaraja Wodeyar in 1894, His wife the Regent Queen took many measures to perpetuate his memory. One of them was to provide piped water for the citizens of Bangalore. The then Diwan Shesdri Iyer got the hEsragatta TAnk enlarged and it was named as Chamarajendra Reservoir ( Alas! it seems to have been long forgotten. So was another water work named after him by his Son Maharaja Krishna Raja Wodeyar IV : Chamaraja Sagara for the Thippagondana Halli Reservoir. Even Cubbon Park was named as Chamarajendra Park – again without success, despiet having his statue theer). Chamarajendra Resrvoir was built at a cost of Rs.20,78,641 and water was pumped for the first time on June 23, 1896 ! Even Civil and Military Station (Bangalore cantonment) got benefited by this scheme. For a long time old Bangaloreans called as Shesdari Iyer’s Coffee ! Chamarajendra Reservoir ran dry for one year in 1923 thus the Government was forced to look in to alternative sources, which ultimately lead to construction of Chamaraja Sagara which was pressed into service on MArch 15, 1933 !

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