Over the last 18 months, Chennai has witnessed its worst flooding, a violent cyclone, a scorching summer, a drought, and a calamitous fire. All events are linked by some common threads — our collective disregard for safety; our inability to appreciate the long-term consequences of bad planning; political expediency; and our misplaced priorities that make us undervalue open unbuilt spaces. The mistakes of our past are catching up with us. But we don’t need to continue making those mistakes.
The Ennore Creek spreads over about 8000 acres. Of this, 1090 acres of wetland area has been lost to encroachments. Another 300 acres of Creek has been damaged by flyash from North Chennai Thermal Power Station’s leaky flyash pipelines. The existing encroachments have drastically altered contours by raising the level of the reclaimed land by up to 15 metres above sea level.
Kamarajar Port wants to convert an additional 1000 acres of wetland into real estate. As you read this, the Port is dumping dredged sand into newly constructed bunds to create a coal yard on 280 acres of the Creek. TANGEDCO is dumping sand and debris to block the Creek and the Kosasthalaiyar to build a coal conveyor for the ETPS power plants. TANGEDCO already has a railway line to transport coal from the port to the power plant. Why the cash-strapped TANGEDCO is constructing an expensive conveyor belt with money it does not have is anybody’s guess.
That is the bad news. But there is good news. Only 15 percent of the Creek has been encroached upon. Saving the remaining 7000 acres is a definite possibility. Arresting all further diversion of the Ennore wetlands, and reversing the encroachments wherever possible will vastly improve the region’s resilience to extreme weather events such as storms/cyclones, heavy rainfall and water scarcity. Such an action will be in line with the law and our obligations to future generations.
This is a mission that we all can – as individuals, communities and governments – engage ourselves in with a sense of shared purpose.
Ennore Creek without Encroachments 1996
Ennore Creek Encroached 2017
The Ennore Creek is bound on the north by the Pulicat Lake and to the south by the Manali marshlands. The worst encroached portion is also the most critical in terms of maintaining the hydrology of the region.
The Creek drains the Arani River, a portion of Lake Pulicat, the Kosasthalaiyar and the surplus course of the Puzhal Lake through the estuary at Mugatwarakuppam.
The Kosasthalaiyar has a catchment of 3757 square kilometres – more than double the combined catchment area of the Adyar and Cooum rivers. The Arani River drains about 1535 square kilometres. With a peak discharge of 125,000 cusecs, Kosasthalaiyar alone can drain more water into the Bay of Bengal than Adyar and Cooum put together.
Of the four estuaries draining Chennai – namely, Kovalam, Adyar, Cooum and Ennore – it is Ennore Creek that evacuates the largest volume of water. Four assembly constituencies – Ponneri, Madhavaram, R.K. Nagar and Thiruvotriyur – stand to be affected by floods if the Creek is compromised. If an Adyar flood brought us to our knees, a Kosasthalaiyar flood can cripple the city.
Ennore Creek can protect us against floods, storms and cyclones and seawater’s intrusion into groundwater. That is why it deserves to be declared and protected as a Climate Sanctuary. There is much empty talk about climate resilient cities. In Ennore, the Government of Tamil Nadu and the city of Chennai have an opportunity to show the world how cities can actually be made climate resilient.
The Ennore Creek is a protected wetland under the Wetland Rules, 2010. Reclamation or setting up of new industries or expansion of existing industries is prohibited within protected wetlands.
The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notifications of 1991 and 2011 too apply to the Creek, which is a tidal waterbody. The Government of India-approved Coastal Zone Management Plan, based on which all projects for CRZ clearance should be appraised, declares the entire Creek as CRZ 1 (ecologically sensitive) – a No Development Zone. Indeed, when the CZMP was approved in 1996, the Creek was free of encroachments. (See Annexure 4 – Google Earth 1996)
But, the CZMP was given a quiet burial, and projects allowed to encroach the Creek. Each encroachment is built by dumping earth or construction debris on water to create land that is anywhere between 15 and 45 feet (5 to 15 metres) above the originally prevailing contour levels. While these encroachments eat into the spread of the Creek, flyash spills from
TANGEDCO’s North Chennai Thermal Power Station have silted up deep water areas of the creek and reduced the depth of the creek from 14 feet below sea level to 2 to 4 feet. Despite orders from Madras High Court and National Green Tribunal, TANGEDCO continues to dump toxic flyash into the creek.
The encroachments have reduced the depth and the spread of the Ennore Creek. Once a famed fishing ground with a rich diversity of commercially valuable fish, prawns and crab, the Ennore Creek is gasping for life. Fishing economy has been badly hit, and once self-sufficient fisherfolk families in Mugatwarakuppam, Sivanpadai Kuppam and Kattukuppam have been reduced to poverty.
In December 2015, areas like Kuruvimedu, Athipattu, Athipattu Pudunagar, Ernavur, Manali New Town, Kodungaiyur, Vyasarpadi, Tondiarpet, Korukkupet — located in the assembly constituencies of Madhavaram, Ponneri, R.K. Nagar and Thiruvottiyur — were badly affected by floodwaters because of the encroachments in Ennore Creek.
In December 2016, Cyclone Vardah made landfall in the Ennore region. The resultant storm surge of more than 1 metre above the astronomic tide inundated low-lying areas in the region. Normally, the Creek is the first shock absorber to deter the storm surge. But with its water carrying capacity vastly reduced, the Creek’s ability to absorb storm shocks has also declined. As the encroachment continues, storm surges will send seawater deep into the hinterland through the rivers, streams and channels and inundate areas that have never before experienced flooding due to tidal surges.
Salinity or Seawater Intrusion:
The AK-basin, or the area between Araniyar and Kosasthalaiyar, is a groundwater-rich area. Metrowater has six well-fields – Minjur, Panjeti, Thamaraipakkam, Poondi, Kannagiper and Floodplains — that yield upto 100 million litres per day of water for Chennai during water-scarce times such as now. The AK-basin is witnessing aggressive salinity intrusion. This will worsen as sea levels rise due to climate change.
Because the Creek stretches about 16 km in a north-south direction, tidal and storm surges are spread parallel to the coast rather than deep inland through rivers, streams and channels. The Ennore Creek’s western edges – which are the areas that have been and are being encroached – are salt marshes and abandoned salt pans. Compromising the creek will aggravate salinity intrusion and endanger Chennai’s water sources. Instead, if the western edges of the Creek are used to harvest rainwater, we can strengthen our defences against seawater intrusion.
If cared for well, the Ennore Creek can become India’s first “climate sanctuary” — a human biosphere project or conservation reserve where multiple livelihood, ecological and climate adaptation objectives are accommodated.
Restoring the river to its original depth, recovering what can be recovered of its spread, and preventing further encroachment can yield significant dividends. This is doable and should be done.
The State administration is already aware of the importance of the Creek; many within the administration are keen to protect the Creek. Their hand needs to be strengthened. Citizens need to speak up to say that we cannot afford to lose more of our wetlands, not after all that has happened to us in the last 18 months.
Write to the Chief Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) urging her to do the following:
a) Declare Ennore Creek as a “Climate Sanctuary” and a No Construction Zone.
b) Prohibit any further encroachment; identify and remove existing encroachments.
d) Develop and execute a detailed ecological restoration plan for the Creek.
e) Restore Creek to its original depth in consultation with fisherfolk and at the expense of the polluters..
f) Protect sand dunes and natural features of the CRZ 1 areas on the Kattupally barrier island, and halt all commercial groundwater extraction ongoing in Kattupally Barrier Island.
Chandra Mohan – Arrapor Iyakkam
Sundarrajan G – Poovulagin Nanabargal
Arun Krishnamoorthy – Environmentalist Foundation of India
George – Ilanthamizhagam
Saravanan K / Pooja Kumar – The Coastal Resource Centre
Nityanand Jayaraman – Save Ennore Creek Campaign