Published: 17th June 2019
Meet Saravanan, who brought together farmers, experts and students in TN to resolve the water crisis
Saravanan, the founder of Wake Our Lake, an organisation which has actively revived the water resources in Tamil Nadu’s Kolli Hills, spoke to us about his difficult, but fruitful journey
The heartbreaking sight of an elderly woman with trembling legs walking for miles to fill her water pot urged this 36-year-old software professional from a small village in Tamil Nadu to do something about the significant decrease in water levels in the water bodies present in and around his village. Saravanan, 36, hails from a small village located in Kolli Hills, Tamil Nadu. As a child, he always found the evident green cover and sufficient water levels soothing. However, it was three years ago, when he was coming back home from Bengaluru, that he trekked to the top of a summit in his native village, glanced upon the parched lands all around and happened to spot the old woman. "The image triggered me to do something about the situation. That's when I realised that education is important, but more than that, water is a necessity to survive. People can be educated, but they can't live without water. It bothered me for quite some time and while travelling to and fro from office to home in Bengaluru, I kept thinking about what I can do to help," says Saravanan.
Google has the answers
In 2017, Saravanan founded Wake Our Lake, an organisation actively involved in resolving the water crisis prevalent in Kolli Hills. "I had started calling friends and people I knew who would help and even made a WhatsApp group called Wake Our Lake. While stuck in Bengaluru traffic, I used to interact with experts, water conservation activists and enthusiastic volunteers and that's how everything began," he says.
Every building should have rainwater recharge pits
Saravanan Thiyagarajan, founder, Wake Our Lake
Lakes are important because they maintain water levels. Saravanan used Google Earth to find out the state of the lakes ten years back. "I and my team undertook a detailed survey of the village and the surrounding areas, trying to identify where the crisis stemmed from. Our findings revealed that the groundwater level in nearby areas had depleted drastically, with 800-1,000 feet deep borewells that had completely gone dry. Most of the vegetation cover in the area had dried up too, forests were almost on the verge of drying up and due to the scarcity of water, the crops were failing. We found that the Thendral Lake had no proper inlet channels so, we made an inlet which was one km long so that water could be stored," he adds.
Love thy lakes
Soon, Saravanan and his Wake Our Lake team came up with a step-by-step plan and launched a proper Wake Our Lake initiative in 2017, beginning with the Thendral Lake project in Narasiman Kadu village. “There was not a drop of water in the lake because of the absence of an inlet channel. We began digging an one km-long canal from the adjacent hills to the lake. The farmers were really apprehensive, only ten or fifteen of them offered their support. But when the rains came and the lake was brimming, they could not believe their eyes," recalls Saravanan. He adds that his journey was not easy at all as getting permission from the Forest Department was a major challenge. However, nothing could pull him back from what he wanted to do. Following the creation of the inlet channel, it was the first time in 30-40 years that the lake was filled completely. Water levels in the borewells connected to the lake also came up significantly.
Water for all: Lakes are important because they maintain water levels says Saravanan
Under the guidance of ISRO soil scientist Dr P Velmurugan, the team could understand the nature of the soil and started groundwater restoration as well. Beside the withering Punnagai Lake, which was their second project, Saravanan constructed a deep rainwater recharge pit. They also built several check dams and bunds in the connecting streams, all from locally sourced and available resources. The rainwater recharge pit worked so well to increase the groundwater levels that it inspired the neighbouring villagers to implement similar projects around water conservation. With the help of experts and NSS students, they have also restored the Panjapatti Lake.
At present, Wake Our Lake has also collaborated with Indian Institute of Science to plant seed balls in barren lands and reinstate the green cover of the region, says Saravanan. "Now, we are also providing guidelines as to conserve water bodies. There's an entire flowchart of lake rejuvenation available on our website that I have created to encourage everyone to pay attention to water conservation in their respective areas. In rural districts like Theni, we are trying to reuse drainage water as much as possible to water the plants. Drainage water is being filtered in a natural way for these purposes. We are also restoring forests, reviving lakes around rural Tamil Nadu and volunteering at a few places in Bengaluru," adds Saravanan.
Saravanan, who has a full-time corporate job in Bengaluru, also teaches kids and trains farmers on weekends in spoken English, communication skills and basic Science. "I have been working for the welfare of my village since 2009 and have improved schools in my area by setting up computers," he concludes. All this, including his efforts towards improving schools and dealing with the water crisis, has made Saravanan a known face in his village.