Community-Based Restoration of Minjur Pond

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Before restoration
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During restoration

Understood to be around 400 years old, the pond was once known for its clear water, natural habitat and religious significance. It is a two-and-a-half acre temple pond lying near the Varadharaja Perumal Thirukovil Temple, which sees thousands of visitors during the festival Garuda Sevai. Historically the pond was used, among other purposes, for ritual bathing and had a close connection with the temple. However, in recent times a number of factors have resulted in degradation of the pond structure and water quality, leaving it in an unproductive, unusable and neglected state. Consequently, the connection to the temple no longer exists, with the door at the back of the temple used to access the pond permanently closed off.

 

Varadharaja Perumal Thirukovil Temple (left). Closed off pond exit (right).

 

Why Minjur?

EFI is completing a full scientific restoration of the pond. EFI had been asked for a long time to restore the pond by an enthusiastic and driven supporter of the environment, and his local town. Finally, after two years everything fell into place and the restoration started in June after preliminary survey in May 2018.

Like many water bodies in the area the Pond in Minjur has suffered from a combination of issues that have had a negative impact on the water, native flora and fauna, and local residents nearby. Lying in a sensitive groundwater area facing over-exploitation and saltwater ingress, this non-perennial pond also has an important function in replenishing and maintaining sustainable groundwater levels.

One of the main factors leading to the state of the pond has come from severe encroachment of residential housing. Even within the last decade the pond has seen a dramatic increase in residential housing along its edge. This threatens the boundaries of the pond and the erosion of the bunds that play a crucial role in maintaining the holding capacity and flood protection for the surrounding area.

 

Minjur Pond in 2002 and 2018 (left). Severely encroached house (right)

 

Encroachment also results in untreated sewage that enters the pond through one inlet, and a number of drainpipes directly entering the pond bringing grey water. This results not only in unusable water but also provides the perfect conditions for invasive plant species such as the water hyacinth that thrive off overly rich conditions. During restoration, the inlet bringing sewage was closed off in order for work to be completed fully.

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Invasive plant species covering the pond

 

Another problem is the dumping of solid waste, especially plastics. This is not only unsightly but also threatens the pond’s ecosystems and limits the ability to recharge crucial groundwater resources. Further, it can create leachate problems that can contaminate groundwater as well as health hazards for neighbourhood residents.

 

Plastic waste thrown in the pond

 

Work undertaken

Garbage clean-up

The first step was to clean up the lake of garbage before physical restoration could take place. Three clean-ups were organised with the local community, involving a total of 180 people. The invasive species was also removed with the help of local volunteers.

The restoration of any water body by EFI is done through a Community-based Conservation Model. At the centre of this approach is the idea that the local community should be actively involved in the restoration process, not only to understand the importance of a clean water body and environment, but also to gain a sense of ownership over the pond that can transform into a commitment to protecting it. Engaging the local community in this conservation program is therefore critical to sustain the effort, by creating an interest in the natural environment and conservation.

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Voluntary clean-up activity

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De-watering 

One main challenge before excavation could begin was draining the pond of water. After a full assessment, it was realised that the bed of the pond was a wet clay of around 7 feet, conditions unsuitable for machines. As such, on-top of the regular de-watering, a further draining process was done through creating drainage channels. Finally, the bed was left to dry out.

 

Assessment of soil type and depth

 

Excavation of the Pond

The bed of the pond was deepened by 3 feet, and the soil was used in the formation and strengthening of bunds around the pond. This clears silt that has accumulated on the bed as well as levelling the surface and ensuring an optimal structure for water holding. Deepening of the water body and removal of excess silt is important to ensure increase in water percolation and help replenish ground water resources.

 

The bed is deepened and the soil is used to form the bunds

 

One corner of the pond before and during the restoration of the bunds

 

Community engagement

In addition to the clean-up activities, a cultural event was held to promote the importance of looking after the pond sustainably after restoration. Food was served to the community and information was given to everyone regarding the restoration and further plans. The local residents were all thanked for their participation and support in the conservation of the pond. Through this we hope to change attitudes towards the dumping of waste. To lead by example, no plastic was used during the event, instead using biodegradable areca plates.

Future community activities will include environmental wall painting, and plantation of native species around the pond providing support to the bunds and clearly demarcating the boundary.

 

Cultural activity, only biodegradable plates used to serve food

 

Expected Outcomes

A number physical, environmental and social benefits are derived from the restoration.

Outcome type Outcomes
Physical •       Flood resilience

•       Increased water storage

•       Increased water quality for usage

•       Improved groundwater percolation

•       Prevents further encroachment

•       Water flow and circulation – regulation of inlet.

Environmental •       Improved natural habitat

•       Attraction for birds, insects and reptiles

•       Rich ecosystem within the pond

•       Plantation and conservation of native flora. Greening.

•       Improving resilience against climate change with improved groundwater recharge

•       Protecting current biodiversity on the edge of the pond.

•       Temperature regulation

Social •       Improved views for residents

•       Attraction for visitors

•       Temple use

•       Prevention of water-borne diseases

•       Social awareness of environment and water bodies

Various non-human species will also benefit including a diverse range of flora and fauna. Surrounding the lake there exists many plant species such as palm, palmyra, neem, peepal, and tamarind. There are also a number of birds that will benefit from clean water and nesting spaces, such as the Indian Robin, Golden Oriole, Pond Heron, Common Egrets, Swamp Hen. The pond is also home to fish and turtles.

 

The important trees surrounding the pond are conserved

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Turtles from the pond

 

Raghav, a local living in the town, has made much of the work in Minjur possible. He has been an inspiration and great help. It is thanks to him that EFI has been able to work closely and reach as many people in the community as we have. Thankyou to Raghav and all the residents in Minjur.

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Raghav serving food to his local community

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