Wake the lake, float the boat

Anukriti Chaudhari, Manoj Reddy, Shiva Kumar, Sidharth Prasad, Vardhman Kumar

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Have you ever prided yourself on having a lake in the campus – an oasis of serenity set amidst the chaos of the city – only to have that bubble burst at the sudden realization of the lake’s deteriorating condition? Ever wished to take long walks around a beautiful Powai Lake instead of one around today’s ugly and sickening green version? How about a functional boathouse in the campus again? Despair not, for it seems all these wishes may soon turn to reality. But what led to the boathouse being shut down in the first place? Why do we find the Powai Lake the way it is right now? What are the authorities doing to improve the status quo?
iitb boathouse

Not too long ago, there existed a boathouse that indeed housed boats and quenched the thirst of boating enthusiasts in the institute.

Not too long ago, there thrived an active boating club, catering to the ardor of boating lovers, helping them prepare for various boating competitions and organizing boating activities. However, this was only till the early nineties or so, after which all activity was suddenly terminated.

The reasons were numerous. Many reported the presence of a crocodile in the waters, including SAC incharge Mr. Appaji. “I once encountered the crocodile from close quarters and was shocked. Luckily, I managed to get out of the lake safely,” he exclaims. However, a more serious, technical obstacle had been, and continues to be the rapid increase in the construction work in Hiranandani during these two decades. Runaway waters from these sites that merge into the lake carry enough mud with them to form a thick layer of sediment at the bottom. Portions of the lake, especially the ones adjacent to our campus, have grown significantly shallower with time. They are, in fact, shallow enough in places to have made it possible for boats to hit the lake bed, thereby turning boating into a risky task. While the ongoing sedimentation had been threatening termination of the boathouse for a long time,

A fatal accident – in which two people who had gone boating, drowned into the lake – prompted the administration to close the boathouse immediately

a fatal accident – in which two people who had gone boating, drowned into the lake – prompted the administration to close the boathouse immediately.

“Risks due to crocodile and fatal accidents can be taken care of with high levels of precautionary measures. After all, a boathouse is functional on the other side of the lake. But the real issue is that of the large amount of silt which hinders boating,” opines Prof. Asolekar of CESE department.

Hindrance to boating is just one of the many problems caused by sedimentation; there have been other grave consequences as well. For instance, the unclean status of the lake is chiefly attributed to the sediment lurking in its murky waters. “The silt has nutrients that support the growth of water hyacinth, whose overgrowth in turn shrinks the lake. Also, hyacinth or weed growth on the surface of the lake prevents sunrays to directly fall on the lake thereby making life difficult for marine creatures,” explains Prof. Asolekar.

Reacting to the repeated complaints from Powai community, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) authorities finally took up the job of cleaning Powai lake with many long term and short term goals. It is also reported that a committee has been formed under the name of Powai Lake Rejuvenation Project, for which Additional Municipal Commissioner (Project) Mr. Rajiv Jalota (IAS) is the chairman, and Prof. Shyam Asolekar has been appointed as the Convener. Prof. Asolekar of CESE department, IIT-B, has been a part of many committees which have successfully planned the cleaning of lakes across the country.

“We are missing out on a beautiful ecological spot which can be home to a variety of life forms if maintained properly. It is a centre of attraction in Mumbai city and holds great historical importance. It is our moral responsibility to contribute our part to the beautification of the lake,” said Prof. Asolekar.

It is understood that the project has three primary steps. It will begin by digging out the accumulated sediment from the water-bed and using the same to form elevated spots in the lake, which, if planted with proper vegetation, can serve to attract a host of birds. This step is already in its advanced stage, with tenders being floated for desiltation. It usually takes somewhere between six months and a year for completion.

Once desilting is finished, the process of re-establishment of the boathouse can be spurred into action by the concerned student representatives, and the DoSA is highly interested to see it happen.

“While I was a student here, students enjoyed boating in the Powai waters. I would love to see the boathouse running with life again if the cited risks are cleared,” said Prof. Yajnik, DoSA.

Secondly, the project plans to hold various interception and diversion works which shall ensure that water from sewages and constructions is treated well before being emptied into the lake, so as to prevent problems from surfacing and sediments from settling again.

Finally, community awareness programs have been planned to educate people around the lake about the importance of maintaining its cleanliness and beauty. “Ideally these 3 steps should ensure that

In the long run, we will be able to drink water directly from Powai lake

in the long run, we will be able to drink water directly from Powai lake. However that takes quite a long time – around 25 years or so”, predicted Anand, a Ph.D student who is working on the same project.

Prof. Asolekar is very confident about the success of this project, having been a part of several such projects over the years. “I honestly do not find any hindrance that could possibly stall the project permanently. Government officials have been very proactive in their responses to the requirements. BMC authorities are ready to procure the necessary funds. Four experienced engineers have already been appointed to support the project. However, it should be accepted that the work is progressing at a slower pace now.”

Assuming that the project goes according to plan, we can expect to see a new, transformed Powai Lake – one with a more diverse ecosystem, a fully functional Boathouse and cleaner water.

Something to be really proud of, don’t you think?