In rural Kancheepuram, communities come together to revive tank irrigation systems
Experts from government, civil society and research organisations spoke about changing rainfall patterns, increase in mean temperature, ocean warming and the devastating impact of cyclones at a two-day workshop on climate change held in the city.
The workshop was organised by the Centre for Media Studies, in collaboration with the German development agency GIZ and the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
A. Ramachandran, visiting professor at the Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation Research (CCCAR), Anna University, said that Tamil Nadu was witnessing a general tendency of decline in annual rainfall, estimated at about 4%, even as the mean average temperature was rising. He warned that if this continued the State would be in the grip of a drinking water crisis soon as poor rainfall would lead to frequent droughts.
Projections for sea-level rise show that the State’s 1076 km-long coastline could experience anything between 1-7 mm/yr-1 of sea-level rise by the end of the century. “Even a half a millimetre sea-level rise could inundate over 60,000 acres of land near the coast,” claimed K. Palanivelu, Director of CCCAR.
H. Malleshappa, Tamil Nadu’s Director for Environment, outlined the State’s climate action plans and emphasised the need for adaptation to tackle the current crisis. “While we need mitigation to arrest the rise of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere, adaptation is more important,” he said.
The workshop included a field visit to two villages in Thirukazhukundram taluk in Kancheepuram district on Friday where the NGO, DHAN Foundation demonstrated how it had helped local communities to organise themselves and revive centuries-old tank irrigation systems to improve water storage facilities.
“Tanks are like banks for water. They help with both flood regulation and drought mitigation,” said Aadhi Narayanan, coordinator for the NGO.
Farmer E. Kathiravan said that earlier, villagers grew three crops in 250 acres of land with water drawn from three lakes in the neighbourhood — Periya Eri, Thagapanthangal and Pudu Eri — which drained into the Palar River finally. These water bodies were connected by a system of eight cascading tanks. Poor maintenance had resulted in siltation that reduced the tank’s water storage capacity, and during heavy rains the lake breached, resulting in flooding.
The local villagers got together to increase the heights of the tank bunds; they also dug farm ponds and dredged silt from the tanks. Despite reduced rainfall, the villagers managed to grow two crops annually now due to the efforts made in improving the tank irrigation facility.
In Vengampakkam village, DHAN Foundation got the local community together to deepen a 150-year-old existing tank structure and deepen two small ponds existing nearby. Situated right next to the government higher secondary school in the village, the tank — revived partially with CSR funding from Kalpakkam Atomic Power Station — is now connected to a sand and gravel-filled percolation pit, through which water is filtered and harvested for drinking purposes.
K. K. Ezhumalai, a local contractor, said that the villagers too pooled in about ₹1.5 lakh as part of the renovation efforts and the tank, which ensured drinking water supply for the entire village, was something they were immensely proud of.