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  • Writer's pictureShilesh Hariharan

Water as Leverage

Chennai has the potential to tap into its underused historic system of hundreds of ponds, temple tanks, huge wetlands, and lakes which were historically used as water basins for irrigation and still serve as flood accommodators. This ingenious system captured rainwater and protected the city from flash floods.

After the water bodies lost their function for irrigation, we failed to recognize the other services this system delivered to the city. Rapid urbanization has also resulted in significant challenges. Encroachment of ponds, wetlands and canals have reduced its drainage capacity to a minimum. On top of it, solid waste and illegal constructions cause many of the canals and rivers to clog.

Water as Leverage presents a unique opportunity for an innovative solution to be developed to address contemporary urbanization issues.

“History is the future” for Chennai. Our project called City of 1000 Tanks identifies the interrelationships between the underlying causes of water scarcity, floods and sanitation/water pollution and offers a holistic solution to these three problems. We are designing a solution to collect and clean water by means of a blue-green infrastructure of tanks and cleansing channels, rather than drains, and to recharge aquifers during the yearly monsoon and release reservoirs over long stretches of times.

Eventually, to make this a reality, the city must transform into a dynamic seasonal landscape. Therefore, building upon interconnected art and pilot projects, we are introducing an incremental approach to realize this strategy. We consider spatial, technical, organization, cultural and economic challenges in a staged and adaptive reform of the current water management system to achieve a better use of Chennai's abundant water provision.

Currently, in the first phase of the pre-feasibility study we have identified a few sites to pilot & implement our design and to be integrated in an overall regional vision. Mylapore Tank Area, Areas around the Mambalam Canal, Chitra Nagar low income group settlement in Kotturpuram, Koyambedu Market Areas are all identified as our pilot sites. Design and Governance strategies are being worked hand in hand in order to devise a road map for implementation.

Essentially, our team has a different perspective for solving the water challenges. Regional and local approaches are being matched and merged with in-depth research, capacity building and planning on different scales which are being developed in an inclusive approach of coalition building, learning and listening. And the team comprises of international water and climate experts, engineers, scientists, architects and urban planners. OOZE Architects, an international design practice operating between the fields of art, architecture and urbanism leads the team, is our Principal Partner, along with Care Earth Trust (Dr.Jayshree Vencatesan), IIT Madras (Dr. Balaji Narasimhan, Dr.Indumathi Nambi, Prof. Swaminathan), Goethe Institut (Mr.Helmut Schippert), Rain Centre (Dr.Sekhar Raghavan), Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants (Mr.Joss Brooks & Mr.Michael Shaw), Paperman Foundation, IHE Delft, Paperman, TU Delft, HKV Consultants, Social Policy Experts Ms.Vanessa Peter.

Water as Leverage program is an initiative of the Dutch Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, Mr.Henk Ovink. The Dutch government, in collaboration with the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, and Architecture Workroom Brussels, launched this global water innovation program. Other partners include 100 Resilient Cities and Partners for Resilience, supported by the UN/World Bank High Level Panel for Water and the Global Center of Excellence on Climate Adaptation (GCECA). With the Water as Leverage partners in the region and from the Netherlands, the teams have embarked on a nine month collaboration. It has started with research on the ground, building partnerships and rapidly unraveling the complexity of the challenge and the way these teams can develop opportunities by planning and design through local coalitions and with international expertise.

For more information on the selection procedure see Or read more about other challenges in Chennai such as coastal erosion:

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