Global NGO, engineering firms want to save Bellandur lake

The scary water scenario in Bangalore seems to have gained international attention. Even as citizens in various areas are teaming up to revive various lakes in the city with the help of the BBMP and BWSSB, here is a US-based NGO offering to revive all lakes in the city.

Bangalore has always been in news internationally for its software sector. Now it is the turn of lakes of Bangalore to draw international attention, pollution being the main reason.

A San Francisco-based NGO, Sherwood Institute, focussing on water, energy and ecological infrastructure for cities, is collaborating with Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) to revive the dying lakes and watershed areas in Bangalore. Sherwood has invited public inputs on their site: See Better Lakes, Better Bangalore.

The first watershed which is proposed to be revived with this scheme is the Bellandur watershed. Its catchment area, spread across 140 sq kms, includes Bellandur lake, Madiwala lake, Agara lake, Devarabeesanahalli lake, Kaikondrahalli lake and Doddanekundi lake. Sherwood Institute, and Carollo Engineers, a US-based water engineering firm, have proposed to work along with Invicus Engineering, a Bangalore-based firm and the BDA to rejuvenate this watershed area.

While the organisations signed the Memorandum of Understanding with BDA in November 2012, the work officially started on ground and on paper from July 2013. The delay was said to be due to election code of conduct and instability in the earlier government. Director of Invicus Engineering Vivek Menon signed the MoU on behalf of all the collaborating agencies, i.e, Carollo Engineers and Sherwood Institute. The meeting to discuss the future plan and work was held on 11 July, 2013, at the BDA office.

Vision plan to be provided free of cost

According to the MoU, Bangalore Development Authority is not funding the vision plan to be developed by Invicus Engineering. Around Rs 1 crore is expected to be spent for the Vision Plan alone, says Menon. Sherwood and its partners will fund it themselves.

The lake is spread across 919.17 acres of which 16.29 acres have been encroached upon, according to BDA sources.

BDA’s first task will be to fence the lake area, but the Revenue Department and Tahsildar are yet to survey the lake and mark the boundary for fencing. The cost of fencing is estimated to be Rs 3.23 crore,  which will be funded by the BDA.

Menon explains that they have taken up Bellandur watershed area on a pilot basis. “We will start with Bellandur lake and will gradually expand to work on all the lakes in Bangalore,” he added.

Why this attention on Bangalore? Menon says, “Bangalore is my home; it is home to many IT companies too. We chose Bellandur watershed was because there are many corporate firms around it, who are concerned about it. They see it everyday and feel helpless,” he said. Bellandur lake was chosen for the pilot project,  as it was “one of the most polluted lakes and sees sewerage entering into it from many channels.” If there’s one city in India that can create a demonstrative example of lake rejuvenation aimed at water security and flood mitigation, it is Bangalore, feels Menon.

Bangalore lakes discussed in San Francisco

At a symposium, Greenbuild Connect, held in San Francisco on 15 November 2012, an expert team presented a segment on Bangalore’s lakes. Menon, who was part of the team, says the water scenario was a hot topic at a breakfast meeting attended by many eminent personalities, like A P Robertson from Stanford University, Mike Thorton from the Said School of Business, Oxford, UK, Audrey Davenport, Energy and Sustainability head from Google, Anup Jacob from the Virgin Green Fund, Tamin Pechet from Banyan Water, Bry Sarte and John Leys from the Sherwood Institute and Bill Bean from Green Planning.

Plan for all lakes on the cards

The Vision Plan is to serve as a model for reviving all lakes and watersheds in the city over the next 20 years. They plan to carry out a water balance study and submit the report to the government within next 6-8 weeks. This will comprise GIS maps, water inflow, capacity of Bangalore, demand and supply, possible sources of water and mechanism to clear sewerage.

Further, as the next step, the team, plans to coordinate all the funds obtained for lake development by various departments like BBMP and BWSSB and aid from the World Bank and JICA and use it to develop lakes.

Menon says that the initiative is different from others. This is because they believe that the rejuvenation and sustainability of the effort requires the government, private entities and the people to be equal stakeholders in the process. They are keen to ensure that government funds allocated for lake rejuvenation meet the intended purpose and that private funds act as a catalyst to monitor the effort while civic groups ultimately become not just the beneficiaries of the effort but ensure the sustainability of the lake.

What are the other plans?

Sherwood Institute and its partners are also contemplating on working on TG Halli and Vrishabhavathi valley in the next step. Since the catchments of TG Halli have completely dried up and all 490 lakes in the upstream have been totally neglected, there is no water in TG Halli reservoir.

Explaining why US-based companies were consulted for this work and if the expertise of any Indian firms was being incorporated, Menon says that the US Institute and the company that are spearheading this initiative have worked all across the world and bring a global experience matrix to this burning issue; Bry Sarte, one of the principal investigators from Sherwood Institute has written a book on sustainable infrastructure and has been involved with several projects here in India, and Carollo Engineers brings expertise on water related issues.

Menon adds that Invicus, with its experience of having worked on hydrology and hydraulic issues related to connectivity between lakes, is the Indian partner. IISc‘s Center for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning (CiSTUP) is a key partner in this effort.

‘Diverting sewerage not a solution’

According to TV Ramachandra, from Energy and Wetlands Research group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, who has done extensive studies on Bellandur wetlands, says that mere diverting sewerage is not a solution to revive a lake. Engineers usually do not understand the ecology of the watershed and catchment areas. Mere desiltation and cementing the lakes will only make them tanks like Sankey Tank. The ecology of the lake should also be kept in mind, which is always forgotten. The proposal should incorporate all this when being drafted, he opines.

The Bellandur Saga

A report by IISc, “Environmental Impact of Developmental Activities in the Bellandur Lake catchment” by explains why Bellandur lake faces severe environmental stress. This report points out how there has not been an integrated planning approach, considering all components of the ecosystem.

Various citizen groups including farmers, fishermen, environmental activists and residents have been, over the years, trying to get the government bodies to become proactive in saving the Bellandur lake from encroachment and pollution.

Citizens’ efforts to get information, through RTI on work done by the government in clearing encroachments, desilting and manage the lake have been stonewalled.

In 1996, the local Bellandur Panchayat filed a PIL to stop pollution in the lake. In 2002, Lok Adalat directed all concerned government departments including BBMP, BDA, BWSSB, Minor Irrigation Department, KSPCB and Revenue Department, to form a committee and look into the waste of Bellandur Lake. For details click here.

Now a BDA baby

Bellandur lake was handed over to the BDA, by the BBMP for rejuvenation along with 122 other lakes earlier this year for rejuvenation.

K Manjappa, engineer- officer in BDA, in charge of lakes, said that the lake is filled with sewage, which has to be cleared by the BWSSB. Of the 123 lakes in the city, around 85-90 lakes are filled with sewage and weeds. “All of them will be rejuvenated with these two US companies in a phased manner and we are just starting with Bellandur,” he added.

The MoU signed between BDA and Invicus Engineering

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