Volunteers raise awareness about Madiwala Lake

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Expecting a big crowd on an early Sunday morning to discuss plans to clean up a lake may seem a bit far-fetched. But for those of us who did attend the event at Madiwala Lake on 22nd March, it was a learning experience. The event was organised by Arghyam, a public charitable foundation working in the water sector, in association with RideACycle Foundation (RAC-F), a Bangalore-based, non-profit organisation that encourages and promotes sustainable transport and Sampada, an online Kannada community.

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Marking World Water Day, this event was held to raise awareness about the state of this 280 acre lake, by involving members of the community and senior government functionaries. Though none of the invited officials made it to the event, it didn’t dampen the spirits of those present.

Madiwala lake

Madiwala lake (Pic: Meera K)

The Lake Development Authority’s (Karnataka) website states that “Madivala Lake was subjected to intense pollution, with the blockage of inflow channels, encroachments into the catchment area and inflow of sewage water. All these had transformed the lake into a very large sewage pool. Madiwala Lake, which was once, a fresh water tank, was fully covered with thick growth water hyacinth, thus preventing aeration and affecting the bio-diversity of flora and fauna. Presently the lake is restored under Indo-Norwegian Environment Programme (INEP) and is in good condition." INEP was the Indo-Norwegian Environment Programme funded by the Norwegian government.

But the ground reality is far from that claim. Murali Ramnath, member, RAC-F, explained the problems plaguing the lake. He said that the sewage treatment plant near the lake is not fully functional. Last year, the Karnataka HC had directed the state government to monitor lake development activities. This was in response to a PIL filed by B Krishna Bhat, seeking a direction to preserve and protect water bodies in the State. The petition also said that sewage was being let into lakes and it was killing the water body.

The BWSSB has made a canal to let sewage water into the lake, says Ramnath. Ramnath who has been conducting a study on the lake, says that parts of the lake have really black water. “We have to ask (Range Forest Office) to do a proper survey, find out who the area (around the lake) belongs to, and also make sure there is no encroachment," Ramnath said.

Birds at Madiwala Lake

Madiwala Lake is also home to a variety of bird species. The first ever sightings of flamingoes in Bangalore were made at this lake this year. Fourteen flamingoes were reportedly sighted on 14th March 2009. Bird Expert Pramod Subbarao showed photographs of birds seen at the lake and explained their characteristics. Some of the birds you can spot at the lake include the purple moor hen, spot billed duck, pond heron, purple sun bird, parakeet, kingfisher, tailor bird and many more.

V Ganesh, Range Forest Officer, Krishnarajapuram Range, says plans are on to improve facilities near the lake. The forest department’s Madiwala Lake and Tank Fund (MLTP) collects an entry fee at the park. With Rs. 12 lakhs collected over a period of six years, this money has been used to clean the lake.

The forest department is in talks with the BWSSB to look into the working of the sewage treatment plant. Ganesh says they have spoken to the tourism department to provide lights for the park and five boats for the lake. They are also in talks with the BBMP to improve the public toilet in the park. “We are trying to make a jogging track, a checklist of birds found here, plant 1000-1500 saplings by the end of this year and increase playing equipment for children in the park," says Ganesh. Ramnath says they will plan another meet with the officials and look at forming a committee of experts and mobilise funds to clean the lake.

Members of Arghyam demonstrate water quality tests

Members of Arghyam demonstrate water quality tests (Pic: Meera K)

The event concluded with a walk near the lake. Even as officials seemed to have turned a blind eye to the event, Ganesh Hegde, President, Spandana Vedike (BTM 2nd Stage Residents Welfare Association), said, “If necessary, we will call all the residents and clean the lake ourselves."

(If you want to test any sample of drinking water or purchase a water testing kit, you can contact Sharada Prasad, Arghyam, # 599, Rohini, 12th Main, Indiranagar, HAL 2nd Stage, Bangalore – 8, Ph No 41698941, info [at] arghyam [dot] org.

Details of Water Quality Testing Kits are available here.

You can also approach the central laboratory of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) for a complete test.

KSPCB, Central Laboratory, Nirman Bhavan, Dr Rajkumar Road, Bangalore – 10, Ph No. 23578458

Water testing

Members of Arghyam demonstrated simple tests to check water quality. Some residents living nearby had brought samples of drinking water from their homes, sourced from wells and borewells. Common chemical contaminants include nitrates (caused by sewage mixing into water) and fluorides (caused by borewells in rocky zones)

A study by the State Geological and Mines Department in 2003 and repeated in 2006 on ‘Water Quality of Bangalore Urban Area and its Environs’ found that 58 per cent of the city’s groundwater is not potable and contaminated with nitrate, iron and hardness. The study also reveals that nitrate contamination is high in borewells across the city.

“The primary source of water contamination in the city is domestic sewage. There is close to 1000 MLD (million litres per day) of sewage flowing out from homes of Bangaloreans and hardly 30 per cent of this is collected and treated. The rest ends up in lakes, tanks and groundwater and contaminates it with nitrates, phosphates and bacteria," says S Vishwanath, Advisor, Rainwater Club.

A resident tests sample of drinking water

A resident tests sample of drinking water (Pic: Meera K)

The Arghyam team tested water samples for nitrate and fluoride.

While water samples of residents from BTM layout had permissible levels of fluoride and nitrate, a resident of Padmanbhanagar found that drinking water from her house had high fluoride content. This sample of borewell water had about 2ppm of fluoride in it. Sharada Prasad, Project Officer, Arghyam, said these results are only indicative and should be taken to a laboratory for further testing.

Fluoride content above 1.5mg/L is harmful and can cause Fluorosis, a physically debilitating disease. Nitrates in excess of 45mg/L can cause cancer and leads to methaemoglobinemia also known as Blue Baby Syndrome.

Prasad says that the Madiwala Lake water itself has about 0.5ppm fluoride content and almost no nitrate at all. However, it is biologically contaminated, adds Prasad, “it has lots of bacteria. This is because of the sewage.”


About Vaishnavi Vittal 139 Articles
Vaishnavi Vittal is a Bangalore-based journalist.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for quoting me in the article but there is a slight correction in the numbers. The amount of water being consumed in Bangalore should be close to 1200 mld and the waste water treated is about 380 mld that leaves about 820 mld of untreated/uncollected sewage flowing in our storm drains or discharging into pits and thus contaminating our groundwater and surface water sources like Madivala lake. Remember that a huge investment was made for the treatment of the wastewater in the INEP projects and it is now kaput. The INEP itself declared itself a success and closed its project and went out of it. Why was this money wasted? Who is accountable for this? Good questions with no answers.
    What should be done to clean up our surface and goundwaters –
    Create a Integrated Water management institution responsible for all waters of our city – including piped water,groundwater,surface water and rainwater not to mention wastewater. The BWSSB can easily be upgraded to this institution.
    Build its capacity to manage all waters. The BWSSB has no hydro-geologist for example, no community outreach worker, no hydrologist and no environmentalist/ecologist on board. WHy?
    Arm it with financial powers under a regulator/ombudsman. Remove the subsidy on water and wastewater and recover full costs with a lifeline exception targeted towards the poor specifically.
    Arm it (this institution) with legal powers to manage all waters including wastewater and groundwater. The Pollution Control Board is a toothless,non-functional body unable to achieve its target especially with domestic wastewater.
    Finally get citizens to own up-to their responsibility and not forever clamor for rights. What is our attitude with garbage and sewage? Out of sight is out of mind. This is simply not acceptable anymore and it is great that citizens are coming out to do just that. More power to their elbows and may they continue their battle till all waters of Bangalore are clean. Never give up.

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