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Saving the water bodies
Source : The Hindu Property Plus Published On : 2009-02-14 City : Thiruvandrum

Water bodies are shrinking in urban areas. MANOJ KUMAR KINI says they must be saved.

Well-preserved urban water bodies, such as lakes, ponds, temple tanks and canals, can be a boost to a city’s image, identity and economy. But urbanization and high-density developments have placed immense stress on natural watershed regions all over the country.

Kerala, with its unique urban settlement pattern, is facing a serious challenge in the management of natural water bodies.

The emergence of the tourism and entertainment industry has added another dimension to the threat.

Lakes and the culture surrounding them offer a tremendous opportunity for the development of tourism in Kerala.

All over the State, lake systems are closely linked with the life of people and their livelihood. Waterways, such as canals, can be effective communication systems, which weave precincts together and connect various places.

It is imperative to develop urban design guidelines and policies for physical interventions of any kind in a sensitive place such as a natural watershed region or an urban lake precinct.

The planning policy guidelines of various countries outline the economic significance and the physical and environmental impact of restructuring the natural environment. These factors, therefore, become crucial inputs in land-use planning and design.

Unfortunately, in India, the sustainability of natural watersheds is often ignored in the process of development.

One of the possible interventions on the part of the government to preserve water bodies will be to declare the lake regions as protected cultural landscape.

Ponds, marshes and other ecologically sensitive areas within the city should also be protected by law.

Similarly, wetlands should be recognized as part of the larger open space system in urban development and developers should be given incentives to preserve them.

Many of the smaller wetlands, such as ponds and marshes, are in private hands and hence, the owners have a key role in their preservation.

Enforcement of rules                                                            

Strict enforcement of building rules and setback regulations will help to preserve the banks and shoreline vegetation and thereby, improve the lake frontage.

Guidelines on the management of social and economic aspects assume importance in the strategy for preservation of wetlands.

Reclamation of wetlands for development of roads and other built-up infrastructure for tourism should be avoided or minimized.

Development works should not affect natural drainage channels.

Pedestrian open spaces should be developed along the water edges, especially in the city areas.

The type of use, density, and scale of development, character and style of the built form, material, color and building height and setbacks should be harmonious to the existing development and vernacular style.

There should be strict zoning and regulation of commercial enterprises. All dumping activities along the lake area and the canal region should be banned under municipal law.

Construction of slums and toilets along the lake edge should be prevented by law.

Tourism promotion

The planning and promotion of tourism should be undertaken at the highest governmental levels and viewed as a component of an integrated, comprehensive, resource management plan found on sound ecological principles. The impact on the environment and the development of alternative resources should be key inputs in preparing the strategy.

It is almost always desirable to lay down guidelines for development activities in watershed areas. This should cover the location and style of structures specifying density, height limits, and the extent to which encroachment on the watershed zone is permitted, the treatment of sewage and the control of litter, the preservation of open spaces, and public uses and access to the areas bordering water bodies.

Comprehensive regulations for limiting tourist density to the carrying capacity of the region as a whole and the development areas should be included in the plan.

By integrating tourism related activities with the livelihood of the people, community development gets a boost. For example, local people, rather than tour operators, should be encouraged to operate waterway tours.

Promoting the use of locally made materials is another method of ensuring the livelihood of stakeholder communities which are closely associated with the water bodies.

The author is a consultant urban designer and Faculty, Department of Architecture, College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram.

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