“People can live without education, but not without water,” says this 36-year old software professional who spends his traffic time and weekends to save the lakes. What’s more? The guidelines he created to rejuvenate the lakes start by ‘identifying the catchment area’, ‘knowing the history of the lake’ and ends with a ‘smiling face’.
In an exclusive conversation with Life Beyond Numbers, the founder of “Wake Our Lake”, Saravanan Thiyagaranjan shares the need to revive the dying lakes in Tamil Nadu and fight for environmental sustainability.
Saravanan who hails from Tamil Nadu was born in the Belukurichi village of Namakkal district in the state. “I am from a small village nestled in the foothills of the Kolli Malai. I grew up in a clean and green environment with frequent rainfalls in the area and it was a water-rich place. Sadly, about 3 years back the area lost its green cover. We knew this because the Palm trees, which are the most water-resilient plants started dying and we knew the area was drought-stricken. This was very upsetting for me,” he recalls with a sigh.
Once, while Saravanan was trekking on Kolli hills, he came across an old woman who walked miles to fill water pot. “Her legs were trembling and that reminded me of the precarious condition of the area. While coming back to Bengaluru the whole thing stuck with me and I felt it is imperative for me to take a stand and do something about it. That made me think having access to water is more important than education,” he narrates.
“In Bengaluru, there is a lot of traffic, so instead of just waiting to reach office, I unitized that one hour time and started interacting with experts, conservation activists, and passionate volunteers. Slowly we shifted from a Whatsapp group to a Facebook page and this needed a lot of attention and support from people. Gradually, we found sustainable methods and effective solutions to counter the problem of drying lakes,” he reveals to LBN.
It was in 2016 when Saravanan and his team started identifying the problems of low water levels in various parts of Tamil Nadu and after doing a detailed survey of his native place, he was able to identify the root cause of the crisis.
His findings revealed that 800-1000 feet deep borewells gone dry and the groundwater level in the area had also depleted drastically with time. This also affected the natural vegetation of the area as the crops were affected, the forests started dying and the drinking water became more scarce. The gravity of the situation was enough to motivate him to start the organization Wake Our Lake in 2017.
Defeating the Villains of Drought
After the idea was conceptualized, the first leg of work started from the Kolli hills and gradually the team started to intervene the remaining lakes present in the nearby areas that needed attention.
“The problem is, the farmers are neither aware of the modern resources used for irrigation nor are they know how to sustainably use the resources. The financial problem makes it worse for them. Leave alone the crops, for drinking water, they have to travel miles,” mentions Saravanan.
“With the help of some IIT students, we came up with the solution to refill them. We started with the Thendral Lake project in Narasiman Kadu village. We observed that the wide catchment area had shrunken in the absence of an inlet channel,” he says.
To revive it, Saravanan along with volunteers started digging a 1 km long canal from the adjacent hills to a lake. “Initially about 20 farmers came forward to offer their help but slowly others chipped in. When it rained, the 40-year-old lake was filled overnight. The water levels got increased in borewells as well,” he recalls. “It was a turning point for us because it gave a lot of confidence to farmers who previously were not confident of the work we are doing.”
“There is so much power in teamwork,” says elated Thiyagarajan. “While we were working to rejuvenate the lakes, people from nearby villages gave free meals to students who came for lake work. Even the doctors in the area came forward to show their support in case of emergencies. There was constant cooperation, love, and support which helped us to complete these gigantic tasks.”
Rejuvenating Abandoned Lakes
Apart from reviving Thendral Lake, the team has also revived Punnagai lake. “We give unique names to the lakes that get revived to engage people and get their attention. Further, with the help of farmers and volunteers, they have created Kumaran Pond, Vellaam Vaari pond, which acts as a flood control pond as well.”
During Panjapatti Lake rejuvenation, the team also participated in manual weeding every weekend to create awareness among the villagers. But, the fast growth rate of the plants was disrupting their efforts and therefore the organization teamed up with a green power generation company which installed a special crawler machine in the area and helped in uprooting, crushing and converting weed into reusable biomass. Further, the team is also using Miyawaki method of plantation and creating a dense forest to help the area get its green cover back.
Initially, only 5 people were engaged in the process. Thanks to Saravanan’s tireless efforts to revive lakes and social media, more than 500 people have joined the initiative.
“Apart from immense support from people, we have also come across criticisms. But, I feel when you get negative remarks for your work, it means you are going in the right direction. That is the attitude we have in our team, we never give up,” he says with a smile.
“The rule is really simple when it comes to water conservation. The fast-moving water should slow down and the slow-moving water should percolate. This is how we made 10 check dams with the help of NSS candidates from local school and colleges,” says Saravanan. “We are also asking the farmers to create farm pond, so that excess water can be utilized efficiently as we need to strengthen the village area as well.”
After seeing their tireless and selfless work, people from nearby villages also approached them, says Saravanan with pride. “We bought 2 acres land and constructed a lake in the Belukurichi village, Rasipuram, which benefitted at least 500 farmers. After this, the team created our guidelines for enthusiastic volunteers who wanted to join them.”
This caught the attention of Dr. P. Velmurugan, an ISRO soil scientist who guided the team after seeing their superlative efforts and dedication to rescue nature and deal with groundwater restoration effectively.
“People from Sri Lanka has also approached us to rejuvenate lakes in their areas. So we are trying to understand the type of soil near the sea. We are planning to establish a lot of check dams as well. We have received calls from Germany and the US as well. At present, we are engaged with around 100 activists across Tamil Nadu and from other states.”
“Currently, we are looking forward to rejuvenating Sarjapur lake in Bengaluru and for that, we are planning to organize a bike rally so that people become more aware of the condition of the lake and willingly come forward to help us achieve another milestone in saving the nature,” he says.
Sharing the idea of how he bonds with nature, Saravanan says the young generation to “Plant trees and love them like your own child, watch them grow and this will give immense confidence to work more for nature. Also, every house should follow rainwater harvesting and in a lot of areas there are unused borewells, we should see that the excess water gets collected there. It is very crucial to save water today. Each drop counts.”
To bring back the green cover in certain areas of Tamil Nadu, Wake Our Lake has now teamed up with Indian Institute of Science and is planting seed-balls in the barren lands.
Apart from rejuvenating and creating lakes, Saravanan is also popular among the tribes of his native village where he is working to improve the infrastructure of the tribal schools and wants to come up with a permanent solution to help the children get a proper education.
Remember the lines from 90’s show, Captain Planet, even though we failed to notice and appreciate the thought-provoking song as a child and instead secretly wished to have those magic rings, it is high time to rewind the song again –
We’re the planeteers,
You can be one too!
‘Cause saving our planet is the thing to do,
Looting and polluting is not the way,
Hear what Captain Planet has to say:
“THE POWER IS YOURS!!”