Lake breach in Medavakkam: Citizen flood audit unearths a host of problems

Chennai residents and experts, who conducted the citizen audit, recommend urgent remedial measures for flood mitigation.

On December 4 2023, Chennai plunged into chaos after Cyclone Michaung caused heavy rains and flooding in different parts of the city. The visuals of the Vadakkupattu Lake (Medavakkam Periya Eri) overflowing and breaking a compound wall, with cars in the nearby apartment blocks getting washed away because of heavy inundation, is a sight etched in the memories of residents.

A citizen audit done by a group of residents and experts to investigate the causes of the large-scale inundation has laid bare the negligence of the State Water Resources Department (WRD). According to the detailed audit, the lack of proper infrastructure in and around the lake — specifically the failure of the WRD to provide flood regulators and surplus channels that would have helped in mitigation — was the main reason for the devastation.

What happened on that day

flooding citizen audit
Multi-storeyed apartments in Seetharaman Street, Vadakkupattu were totally inundated after the lake breach. Pic courtesy: Dayanand Krishnan

As rains lashed the city, the Medavakkam Periya Eri reached full capacity. Because of incessant rains, the flood surplus breached the tank bund due to the absence of a surplus weir (a concrete structure constructed to dispose of excess water from a lake or a tank). Owing to the force of the water, there was also reverse flow and all this inundated the nearby houses and multi-storied apartments.

The subsequent sheet flooding had disastrous consequences, as the water levels in low-lying areas around the lake rose as high as five feet. The water pressure was so high that it broke the 5-foot compound wall adjoining the E-block of the Puravankara Windermere apartment complex and entered many of the multi-storied apartment buildings in the vicinity. The lake breach caused grave damage to property and cars in the surrounding areas.  

Read more: How Chitlapakkam remained flood-free during the recent Chennai rains 

Observations made during the citizen audit

flooding medavakkam
Flooding caused large-scale damage to property near the ration shop, Vadakkupattu Main Road, Medavakkam. Pic courtesy: Dayanand Krishnan

Medavakkam Periya Eri (Vadakkupattu Lake) is one of the largest tanks in Medavakkam village and had an initial water-spread area spanning over 150 acres. Its size has now shrunk to cover about 80 acres. The Lower Palar division of WRD has jurisdiction over the management of the tank, but unfortunately, it has not been properly maintained.  

The localities impacted by the tank overflow include Vadakkupattu, Thiruvalluvar Street (Medavakkam) and Pallikaranai. The citizen audit done collaboratively by the Medavakkam Rising team and myself (in the capacity of GIS consultant), found that around 20,000 to 25,000 people were affected by the lake breach and the financial impact was approximately ₹50 crore.

We found that the lack of a proper surplus weir arrangement or flood regulator in the Medavakkam Periya Eri, and the surplus channels that were once present, but are now absent, were the major reasons for the uncontrolled discharge of flood surplus and sheet flooding.

Read more: All that’s wrong with stormwater drains in Chennai and how to fix them

The WRD had not been properly overseeing the surplus infrastructure in urban lakes; there was a lack of surplus channels and the authorities had failed to establish ‘macro cut and cover drains’ to correct the missing links of surplus channels, despite several recommendations. This is what led to the flash flooding in the areas inspected during the audit. 

Based on the findings of the citizen audit and GIS maps prepared, one of the key observations made by the audit members was:

Monitoring failure by the WRD — lack of proper engineering monitoring systems, maintenance, manpower and funding failed to maintain urban lakes mainly the Vadakkupattu Lake, which resulted in flooding of the downstream areas. Waterlogging damaged over 1,000 cars and property worth several crores of rupees in Medavakkam and nearby areas.

flood impact
Financial impact of the flooding. Table courtesy: Dayanand Krishnan

Urgent need for remedial measures

mitigation works
Comprehensive flood mitigation works suggested after the citizen audit at Medavakkam. Pic courtesy: Dayanand Krishnan

The citizen audit team also suggested several remedial measures for flood mitigation:

Connection IndexConnection Name  Connection Details
  1  SW1New flood regulator and surplus weir arrangement at Medavakkam Periya Eri (Vadakkupattu Lake)


Separate missing link ‘cut and cover drain’ of length 960 metres Medavakkam Periya Eri (Vadakkupattu Lake) Lake Surplus:
-Vent size 4 metres wide x 2 metres depth
-Flood regulator (1st Main Road Upto Kovilambakkam Lake)
-Link Medavakkam Periya Eri to Kovilambakkam Lake.
  3  S1Channel link – Thangal South side to Medavakkam Periya Eri (Vadakkupattu Lake).
  4  SW2New flood regulator and surplus weir arrangement at Pallikaranai Anai Eri.
  5  M2Separate missing link ‘cut and cover drain’ of length 150 metres (Pallikaranai Anai Eri Lake surplus)
-Vent size 4 metres wide x 2 metres depth
-Link Pallikaranai Anai Eri to S. Kolathur Madipakkam Lake.
  6  SW3New Flood Regulator and Surplus Weir arrangement at S. Kolathur Madipakkam Lake
  7  M3Separate missing link cut & cover drain of length 300 metres (Pallikaranai Anai Eri Lake Surplus)
-Vent size 4 metres wide x 2 metres
-Link S. Kolathur Madipakkam Lake to Kovilambakkam Lake
  8  SW4New flood regulator and surplus weir arrangement at Kovilambakkam Lake
  9  M4Separate missing link cut and cover drain (Kovilambakkam Lake Surplus) of length around 920 metres.
-Link Kovilambakkam lake surplus to Keezhkatalai surplus channel (Near Echangadu junction).

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