While extensive water pollution and misuse is becoming a roadblock to freshwater availability in major cities, Siruthuli, a non-profit organisation in Coimbatore has been pioneering modern-day water conservation for the past fifteen years. Siruthuli (in Tamil – “a tiny drop of water”) has been working tirelessly to successfully restore the freshwater levels of Coimbatore to its former abundance and conserve the River Noyyal.
The story behind Siruthuli
Since pre-historic times, Coimbatore had been the seat of several important civilizations, thanks to its pleasant maritime climate, abundant rainfall and most significantly, the mighty river Noyyal. Fed by descending rainwater from the Western Ghats, Noyyal was once the lifeline of Coimbatore, nurturing over 20000 acres of agricultural lands that flourished on her banks.
In addition, Coimbatore boasted of an intricately connected network of water bodies including streams, lakes, and ponds as well as underground aquifers.
However, due to rapid urbanisation and industrial growth, Coimbatore began to lose her water resources. In the 1980s, the city was declared by UNDP as “drought-prone, with the fastest depletion of groundwater level in the whole world.” Simultaneously, rampant encroachment and unplanned sewage contamination have reduced River Noyyal to a narrow drain. Out of the 34 streams that originated from the Noyyal, only 3 are thriving as near-arid seasonal streaks of water.
Restoration of river Noyyal
After a devastating monsoon failure in 2003, a few socially conscious organisations of Coimbatore decided to collaborate and take some action. Thus, Siruthuli was born in 2003 – with a vision to recover the city from its severe water crisis.
The stepping stone: Krishnampathy lake
The first project undertaken by Siruthuli was the 125 acres wide Krishnampathy Lake, of which over 50 acres had succumbed to illegal encroachment. The volunteers de-silting the remaining 75 acres. Soon after, the dried up reservoir and interconnected borewells filled up to the brim after only two days of rainfall. The local farmers, who initially discouraged Siruthuli’s efforts as futile were astonished beyond belief.
Sprouting community awareness about water conservation
Smt. Vanitha Mohan, the Managing Trustee of Siruthuli, recalls, “The citizens were overjoyed because they have never seen so much water in Coimbatore. There was no concept of rainwater harvesting among the people. They were amazed to see such a huge amount of water in a single water body with their own eyes. They were voluntarily offering to participate in this project.”
It did not take long for Siruthuli to become a household name in Coimbatore, synonymous with water conservation. They wished to make the movement more inclusive with more citizen volunteers – irrespective of their age, gender or socio-economic background.
Smt. Mohan believes that large-scale citizen integration was possible because water scarcity affects the rich and the poor alike.
Schools, colleges, committees, residential associations, farmers’ unions were approached with the appeal to join hands in saving their city. In 2005, Siruthuli organized the Noyyal Yatra awareness walk for the first time, which witnessed more than one lakh participants. It is aimed at making people aware of the past glory of river Noyyal and urging them to work together in conserving this heritage of Coimbatore. Apart from this, Siruthuli also arranges regular nature camps, training sessions for children, public campaigns, etc.
Today, Siruthuli’s activities are not restricted to water conservation (Water Watch) only; they have accomplished a lot in Afforestation (Green Guard), Waste Management (Waste Wise) and creating environmental awareness (Spread The Word). Their efforts were recognised by the Government Of India and several international organisations.
At present, Siruthuli has a core workforce of twelve people managing all their activities along with an apex body of dedicated volunteers and periodic interns. “We have the Water Bodies Restoration Committee, the Noyyal Restoration Committee, the Forest Management section (which performs afforestation in fallow lands). The Citizen Coordination Committee engages with the citizens, students and inspires more people to join Siruthuli’s initiative,” said Smt. Mohan.
The Noyyal Times is the quarterly magazine of Siruthuli that publishes details of their on-going projects. It also shares examples of methodical environmental management around the globe.
“We faced a lot of challenges”
The path for Siruthuli’s journey was filled with hurdles. Unchecked encroachment of water bodies and wetlands for construction purposes has been a major challenge. However, with diligent efforts and dedication, the organisation has successfully saved many water bodies, with a proper relocation of the local residents.
Another major challenge that Siruthuli is still facing is contamination of freshwater with sewage. Due to the absence of advanced underground drainage system (UGD), most of the wastewater gets mixed with the fresh water sources polluting the rivers, canals, lakes, and ponds. “We are trying our best to convince the government to set up sewage treatment plants. The sewage needs to be treated first before being let out into the water bodies,” says Smt. Mohan.
Siruthuli: the future plans
Siruthuli has been built drop by drop over fifteen long years; with passion, dedication, commitment, and responsibility. Today, it resonates with the emotions of Coimbatore. The organisers envision three primary tasks in front of them for the next ten years:
- Complete restoration of River Noyyal
- Increasing the catchment areas of all water bodies and revival of the river basins
- Creating a green cover for the city
Siruthuli inspires the citizens of other Indian cities to protect the environment around them. It is high time the nation takes note of their achievements and incorporates similar initiatives everywhere.
If you wish to know more about them, reach out to their website: https://siruthuli.com/
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