Chennai: Playing With Water  

Guest blog by The Coastal Resource Centre, Chennai

This stories of Adyar and Kosasthalaiyar Rivers from Chennai is fifth in the series of online stories of urban rivers from across India. Please share your feedback and provide us with suggestions (read more in appendix). If you have any urban river stories or images that you might want to share, please send them to ht.sandrp@gmail.com and asid@veditum.org.


The South Indian coastal city of Chennai is home to more than 5 million people. The city is predominantly flat and consists of sandy coastal plains drained by three major rivers the Adyar, Cooum and Kosasthalaiyar. The latter is the largest and empties through a backwater and estuary at the Ennore Creek.

Because of its flat topography, early settlements in the region were possible only after making arrangements to hold rainwater through harvesting structures like Eri’s or irrigation tanks. Surplus from the tank network was designed to drain into rivers and thence to the Bay of Bengal.

Between 1980 and 2010, the built up area inside the city has grown from 47 square km to 402 sq km. During the same period, area under waterbodies declined from 186 square km to 71 square km.

Degrading land-use change and the abuse of the three rivers in the name of urbanisation is a major factor in the city’s increased vulnerabilities to droughts and floods.

Presenting – Chennai, a city witnessing its planned demise.

Major Drains in Chennai
Major Drains in Chennai. Map showing the three main estuaries that drain Chennai Metropolitan Area; Adyar, Cooum and Ennore.

Adyar: Originating at Chembarabakkam Lake in Kanchipuram District, Adyar River flows 43 KMs east to drain into the Bay of Bengal at Adyar Estuary in South Chennai. Carrying the surplus from hundreds of tanks, lakes and storm water runoffs; it drains a total of 1142[i] SqKM. Large-scale installations like commercial airport runways, IT companies and city bus terminals have encroached into the watershed of the river, altering its natural flow.  Further, Discharge of city waste and resultant siltation has narrowed the river by more than 30%[ii].

Map showing the origin and the final drain of Adyar river that runs through Chennai Metropolitan Area.

In December 2015, as the city faced torrential heavy rain, almost 1 lakh cubic feet per second flowed through the Adyar, three times its normal capacity[iii]. The crippled Adyar River breached leading to a disastrous flood, killing more than 100 people and causing material damage running up to several Crores in Chennai City.


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Slide show on Adyar River and Chennai Rain (Pics Credit: Amirtharaj Stephen) 

Kosasthalaiyar: The lesser-known Kosasthalaiyar is the largest river that runs through the Chennai Metropolitan Area. Originating in Andhra Pradesh and joining the sprawling 7000-acre creek in Ennore, Kosasthalaiyar drains 3757 SqKM[iv]. State and Central government owned PSUs have encroached on more than 1090 acres belonging to the river’s backwater complex.

Map showing the entry of Kosasthalaiyar river into the Ennore backwater complex, draining into the Bay of Bengal through the Ennore Estuary.

Coal Ash slurry discharged into the river by the power plants has silted up the river. These encroachments places more than 1 million people living along the tail-end of the Kosasthalai under higher risk of disastrous flooding. The Save Ennore Creek Campaign, led by Ennore fishers, is attempting to save and restore what’s left of the Creek.



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Slideshow of images around Ennore Creek ( Image Credit: Amirtharaj Stephen) 

Please leave your feedback or questions for the author in the comments, or you can write to the authors directly at mailpoojakumar@gmail.com. Share this river story with others, and please use #IndiaRiversDay2017 in the description if sharing on social media. We look forward to hearing your responses.

About the organisation: The Coastal Resource Centre, set up under the Community Environmental Monitoring (CEM) project of The Other Media, intends to provide sustained support to coastal communities in challenging destructive developmental activities. Find more of their work here: https://coastalresourcecentre.wordpress.com


As part of the India Rivers Day 2017 event, we held an exhibition based on this year’s theme – ‘Rivers in the Urban Context’. Responding to our call for entries, many individuals and organisations shared urban river stories/documentation from across India, making it a lively and diverse collection.

However, a concern shared by the organising committee and many of our visitors, has been the limited distribution of these important and insightful river stories if restricted only to the physical form of the exhibition. It is in this stead that we’re starting a series of blogs where we will share these various river stories, though the experience of the exhibition can only be justified when visited in personal capacity.

If all goes well, we will soon announce dates for the exhibition to be open in more venues across Delhi and other cities too. If you want to or can help us taking this exhibition to a local venue near you, please contact us at ht.sandrp@gmail.com and indiariversweek2014@gmail.com


[i] http://www.cmdachennai.gov.in/pdfs/SeminarOnWaterways/5.pdf

[ii]                      http://www.deccanchronicle.com/140905/nation-current-affairs/article/illegal-encroachments-shrunk-adyar-river

[iii]                     http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/chennais-encroachments-on-water-bodies-caused-floods/articleshow/50249182.cms

[iv] http://www.cmdachennai.gov.in/pdfs/SeminarOnWaterways/5.pdf

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