Maps, lakes and citizens: The use of surveys in lake conservation - An article in the Seminar magazine

Settlements in the area that is now Bangalore have a recorded history that dates back to the 5th century CE. Water for these settlements was made available through multiple series of tanks, which numbered 19,800 around the year 1830.

This lake system is now decaying with lakes either taken over for urban uses, or choking due to neglect. ATREE and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) have been engaged in attempting to understand how to restore these lakes for urban use, while maintaining their ecological importance. This article in Seminar describes this attempt.

Puttenahalli: one of Bengaluru's urban lakes

The lake networks were created by checking rainwater runoff through earthen embankments such that the outflow of water from a lake at a higher level supplied water to the lakes at a lower level through canals. Lakes, wetlands, orchards, fields and human settlements formed a closely linked and managed system. The wetland-agricultural-grazing-orchard landscape surrounding the lake acted as a natural watershed basin to recharge the lake with fresh precipitation while the harvesting of silt for agricultural purposes checked siltation of the lakes. 

With the advent of piped water supply in the 20th century, many of the city’s lakes were drained and converted to other land uses, including bus stands, golf courses, malls and residential areas. Similarly, the changing landscape has decreased infiltration of rainwater and increased pollution.

Currently, there are about 210 lakes located within the administrative boundary of greater Bengaluru. Given the terrible condition of most of these lakes, the BBMP and Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) are planning large-scale restoration and rejuvenation programmes. 

Restoration attempts made earlier have focused on single lakes, without attention being paid to the inter-connectivity of this system. Similarly, little attention has been paid to the ecological profile of the individual lakes.

In an attempt to change this, a number of urban researchers, naturalists and concerned citizens have engaged in extensive discussions with the BBMP over the past three years, seeking to develop guiding principles for lake restoration and management that 

  • are geared towards conservation in urban environments
  • pay attention to the need for urban recreation and social inclusion, 
  • maintain cultural diversity, 
  • provide space for traditional livelihoods and the urban poor.

The work done by the Kaikondanahalli Kere Abhivruddhe Samasthe (the Kaikondanahalli Lake Development Organization) is then described. This group, representing residents and various experts has interacted with the BBMP to develop a comprehensive lake restoration and management plan.

The lake has now been restored taking into account the needs of the natural flora and fauna, the cattle owning households in the nearby peri-urban villages, children from the school nearby, and urban recreation needs.

The group now plans to springboard from this to facilitate a larger programme directed at a network of lakes in south-eastern Bengaluru.

This programme needs to follow a synergistic approach that values all the various roles that lakes play in the social-environmental system equally. This includes water recharge, biodiversity, micro-climate control, public recreation, and livelihoods. Processes for lake maintenance  that include various stakeholders, and allow for regular monitoring of lake health indicators also need to be developed.

Urban conservation, in its multiplicity of stakeholders, priorities and concerns, poses a challenge to successful and synergistic work. This is compounded by the dearth of social capital caused by the transience and isolation of urban populations. However, Harini Nagendra asserts that the experiences in Bengaluru illustrate that this capital can be built up and make possible the conservation of our common resources.

Read the entire article here.

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