ITHIKKARA RIVER


 

Ithikkara River is 56 km long which originates from the low hills situated near Madathuri kunnu at about +240 m above M.S.L and from the hills located south-west of Kulathupuzha in the Western Ghats, flows mostly through Kollam District finally emptying into Paravur Kayal. The village of Ithikkara is located on the river, 15 km from Kollam and 2 km from Chatanoor. This naturally occurring phenomenon which results in amalgamation of river, lake & sea has been nature’s way of taking care of the residents along the banks of the river without any fury or destructions. As well as this is the single most reason why waterborne diseases are not prevalent in this region during rains.  This being the scenario the general perception in administration circles is that when the sea is in spate or rough sea during the monsoons, it breaches the embankment and mergers with the Paravur Kayal and not the other way round.

Ithikkara River  passes through Anchal, Ittiva, Edamulackal, Chadayamangalam, Elamuda, Velinallor, Palliclal, Kalluvathukal, Pooyapally, Adichanallor and Chattanoor. Ithikkara River flows about 3 Kms through the Paravur Lake via Ithikkara, Pullichira, Kakkotmoola & Mayyanad before flowing into the Arabian Sea through the natural estuary at Lakshmipuram Thoppu, Mayyanad. Ithikkara River’s natural flow through the Paravur Lake this far can only be explained by an indigenous fishermen and it with awe one views a local fisherman navigating the choppy waters when the river is in deluge.

Nature unique amalgamation of three forms of water bodies produces a unique fertility which fishes prefer to thrive and fisher folk love to feast upon. Indigenous people link this phenomenon to the local church festival as it coincides with the rainy season. It’s their belief estuary will break open and they will have a season of plenty once the flag is hoisted at Pullichira Marian Church. There has been a three way mechanism where fishes which initially originate from the paddy fields along the Ithikkara River would get carried down to Ithikkara River during rainy season. They grow up in the fresh waters of Ithikkara and in spate get washed down 56 km down south to the Paravur Lake. The force of the underwater stream (Ithikkara River which flows through Paravur Lake) is such that it’s slow but firm knock on the tiny strip of land at Lakshmipuram Thoppu (Mukkam) in between the sea and the lake, eventually leads to the natural opening up of the estuary. This enables fishes from Arabian Sea to move into the Paravur Lake swimming up the fresh water stream flowing into the sea in the guise of looking for the fresh water source. This unique phenomenon had tremendous benefits for aquatic habitat, environment, ecosystem and huge benefits to the fishermen community at large.

Once the excess water gets emptied into the Arabian Sea and the flow becomes a trickle, the estuary closes itself due to sand formation developed by the combinations of  underwater currents from lake, river & sea  at the mouth of the estuary which works in varied directions so that sand heaps up and its back to normal. This is a huge tourist draw for people from far and near as they get to walk on the mud deposits formed during this unique natural occurrence. This natural system gets repeated time and again when nature deems it necessary to protect its inhabitants.


Ithikkara Brick Companies

Excavation of clay and sand from paddy fields for brick making had acquired a rampant pace in the 80s & 90s in and around Ithikkara River. From about one hectare of paddy-field leased from farmers, a brick manufacturer can rake in an annual profit of more than three lakh rupees. Also, because the brick manufacturer could afford to pay more, most of the women who used to work in paddy-fields did switch over to the brick industry. This has resulted in the current dilapidated state of Ithikkara paddy fields as they are now mere water logged ponds. With availability of cement bricks and no more cheap land available for sand and clay excavation the industry is in decline. But the environmental havoc wrecked by the Brick industry is there for generations to deal with.


Protection from Flood

Ithikkara River passes through the villages of Vayala, Pampira, Ayur, Thiruvambhagam, Atturkonam while Adichanallore, Chathannur and Chadayamangalam are some of the important places in the basin. The above said natural phenomenon has been protecting the southern parts of Kollam especially Mayyanad, Mukkom, Thani, Kakkottumoola, Nedumgolam, Kurumandel areas from flood waters since time immemorial. Policy planners under the influence of business interests with active support from local politicians made a case so as to save agriculture land at Ithikkara from salinity through the estuary. It was perceived and projected that water from the sea was creeping upstream Ithikkara, during high tide and the only solution is closure of the estuary permanently. This had repercussions in the Legislative Assembly too, as the case was seemingly put up on behalf of the farmers of Ithikkara and that salinity was preventing agricultural activity.

Local Administration at the behest of political influence decided that the best course of action is to create a shutter or spillway mechanism whereby it can be opened up towards the sea to empty flood waters in the downward direction only. Here man intervenes in nature trying to alter what it had conducted itself impeccably for centuries, using plain administrative powers to modify the natural flow, without ownership of the issue. As always the environmental and habitat degradation in their immediate personal environment of the indigenous fishermen community, their perils and the biodiversity losses went unnoticed. It’s worth mentioning that the indigenous community did put up a spirited fight against the same, but their lack political power or inability to use the Gramsabhas, made it hard to get their message across to the administration officials to reverse course. On speaking further to the fishermen they still harbor a lot of remorse at the administration officials who took extraordinary interest so as to execute the permanent closure of the estuary.


Significance of the phenomenon

This unique phenomenon of nature imbibes in it flow management systems like fresh water management, control of saline water, cleansing of the saline content in the river and flood control. More importantly studies have to be done to ascertain how the amalgamation of river, lake and sea waters assists the respective fish species from the various water bodies and contributes immensely to the livelihood of the indigenous fishermen community. This natural occurring sustains the entire stretch of Ithikkara banks, the health of Paravur Lake, prevents water logging in mainland, occurrences of water borne diseases and maintains its natural ecosystems and biodiversity.

During monsoons as the river is in spate it cleanses the system of its accumulated salinity thereby aiding further growth of its fresh water fish species till the next monsoons. Fresh water fishes which originate in the paddy fields all along Ithikkara river banks finds its way into the river during rainy season. This prevents surplus water logging in the fields which is detrimental to agriculture. By virtue of this happening the plains around the Ithikkara rivers bank never gets into a deluge like situation, thus saving lakhs of rupees on relocation and diseases during monsoon. This process in itself sustains fresh water life in Ithikkara River.


Cultivation along Ithikkara River

Cultivation activities at the rich embankments at Ithikkara near Kottiyam have came to a standstill as the fields have given way to sand mining. The entire stretches of paddy fields on both sides of the river have become ponds which are now used for commercial prawn cultivation. The river bed at Ithikkara as seen in the figure is strewn all over the place and virtually the river is everywhere, in short contaminating the entire area with its slight saline water. And this is essentially what is needed for Prawn Cultivation. A perfect situation created by modern day aquaculture techniques to obtain foreign exchange at the expense of nature.

Ithikkara River bank paddy fields

Figure 1: State of Ithikkara River bank paddy fields where cultivation happened once

As time elapsed, today the prawn cultivators are forced to constantly protecting the ponds embankments by raising the mud walls as the estuary is of permanent nature now. Previously the nature engineered estuary used to close itself once the purpose was done, while the human engineered one doesn’t have some systems inbuilt. Due to permanent estuary Ithikkara River gets constant saline intrusion from the sea thereby altering the ph level of the water so that prawn culture becomes difficult. In short the entire agricultural land for which the estuary was once blocked is now fully engulfed in saline content. And now we have resorts coming up on the once famous nutrient rich agricultural land. Such rampant degradation of land and soil has to be looked into with all earnestness.

In a span of three decades Ithikkara village has gone from fertile agricultural land and farming to brick companies which led to sand and clay excavation from the fields. Once the fields became water logged people became innovative and started to cultivate tiger prawn to cater to the export market. Now that the permanent closure of the estuary is asking serious questions at the modern prawn cultivators thereby receiving less rent from prawn cultivators. Thus land owners are making way for tourism infrastructure both small & huge. Look at the natural transition in seamless fashion from agriculture to brick companies to prawn culture and now tourism assets in the form of resorts all aided by the local administration.


State of Ithikkara River

The once sprawling fresh waters of Ithikkara has become more saline in nature as the water is not flushed out during monsoons to the Arabian sea due the estuary being blocked permanently. The natural cleansing of the river water by natures own mechanism was the key to its aquatic life biodiversity. Once famous fresh water fishes of the Ithikkara River has all but vanished. Fishing families along the river bank are forced to put up with their loss of livelihood.

People who live near the river and its tributaries indeed are deeply concerned about the decline of the river's water retention capacity due to loss of tree cover, top soil loss, illegal sand mining and also the serious water pollution issues due to garbage disposal into the river all through the stretch of it. There is now acute shortage of water in summer. The once healthy river is in peril in summer. Rampant illegal sand mining all along the river has made the river shallow due to caving in of its sides and the river bed is virtually like plain land as sand islands crop up during dry seasons highlighting the plight of the Ithikkara River. The deafening sound of huge machines sucking out sand is more or less routine during any part of the day as its mandatory business. Of late the river has broken up into several rivulets as the original bed has been permanently damaged due to the brick manufacturing industry & illegal sand mining.

Devastation caused by indiscriminate sand mining

Figure 2: Devastation caused by indiscriminate sand mining

No Riverbanks anymore but mini-lakes

Figure 3: Devastation caused by indiscriminate sand mining


TIMELINE

10th-Oct-2011: HELP Foundation releases a paper titled “Study & Analysis on the degradation of Paravur Lake and Ithikkara River.

  1. 19th-Apr-2013: Paravur Lake and Ithikkara River Protection Council formed and registered.
  2. 13rd-Sep-2013: HELP Foundation requests Dept of Environmental Sciences, Kerala University to assist HELP Foundation in documenting and studying the issues so as to work together in Wetland Ecosystem Restoration Efforts.
  3. 20th-Sept-2013: Ithikkara Block Panchayat, Kollam, roped in to the activities.
  4. 30th-Oct-2013Symposium on Restoration of the Paravur Lake-Ithikkara River Ecosystem.
  5. 26th-Dec-2013: Reinstation of Estuary after 32 years by redrawing the maps depiciting the original estuary.
  6. 04th-Feb-2014: Survey, identification and marking of the banks of Ithikkara River.
  7. 07th-June-2014: Launch of “HELP Foundation River Watch” Program for Ithikkara River with support from WWF.
  8. 14th-July-2014: Visit to Local Bodies started form “HELP Foundation River Watch” Program for Ithikkara River.
  9. 30th-September-2014: Visit to Local Bodies completed and River Watch Committee formed in all 12 panchayats for Ithikkara River.
  10. 15th-September-2014: Visit to Schools identified by the Local Body for training session related to making river watch happen for Ithikkara River.
  11. 1st-March-2015: HELP Foundations carries out a study at Ithikkara Rivers Upper Catchment area with assistance from Kaanni tribes people and locals.
  12. 07th-April-2015: HELP Foundation releases the study report and the actions that need to be taken to strengthern Upper Catchment Areas of the river.

 

Facebook Link depicting HELP Foundations activites related to Ithikkara River