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| Last Updated:08/06/2021

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Wetlands of Madhavaram going dry

Once fragile and beautiful, the diminishing freshwater habitat of Madhavaram poses a threat to the groundwater needs of the city while raising the risk of monsoon flooding.

Biodiversity in and around Retteri Lake (also known as Madhavaram Tank) is fast depleting, thanks to hundreds of industrial units and shops that have come up in the area. Effluents from these establishments and unregulated dumping of garbage have taken a heavy toll on the lake.

The population of Madhavaram has almost doubled since the area was brought under Corporation of Chennai limits in 2011, alongside the proliferation of industrial units that let sewage directly into Retteri Lake and other water bodies in the vicinity .

At the canal near Vadaperumbakkam, locals point to a network of pipes that carry sewage from surrounding restaurants and shops into the lake. "With a lot of construction activity through the year, debris is dumped with no fear," said S Murugavel, a resident.

The wetlands of Madhavaram are among the city's three most fertile and bio-diverse spots; the others are around Ambattur and Korattur lakes nearby . The freshwater habitat is home to exotic plant and bird species including the common kingfisher, pied kingfisher, myna, great heron, purple heron, spotted dove and spot-billed pelican.

"Retteri Lake has been divided in two by the construction of a national highway that runs through the lake," Jayshree Vencatesan of Care Earth said. "Such constructions have hurt the ecosystem by blocking waterways like canals, ponds and culverts."

Blocked waterways have clogged inlets and outlets, leading to flooding during monsoon. The wetlands should act as a sponge when it rains, absorbing and filtering water and recharging the city's groundwater but unplanned construction has made a mess of the ecosystem, causing an imbalance in the habitat, Vencatesan says.

"Think of Retteri Lake as a tank that supplies water to the southern parts of the city," Arun Krishnamoorthy of Environmental Foundation of India said. "If the tank water is polluted with heavy metals and toxins by dumping of sewage and garbage, the localities that depend on it are bound to be affected too." The ecosystem has depleted steadily over the years. Many rare species of flora and fauna have disappeared from Madhavaram forever, Arun says. "The government must take immediate action to relocate encroachers and punish those who pollute water bodies," he said. "The authorities must construct bunds to cordon off the lake and protect it from human interference. They should ban human activity such as bathing and washing along the lake periphery ."

Another pollutant is chicken waste dumped by butchers on the roadside, particularly along the periphery of Retteri Lake. Antibiotic residue in hormone-injected chickens spreads through water and soil and ends up in crops, making humans vulnerable to a range of serious infections, doctors say. The diminishing water level of Retteri Lake, also called Madhavaram Tank, poses a threat to the city's groundwater needs.