21 November 2016, Kotagiri: Village representatives from Pillur and Aracode visited Keystone today for a presentation and talk on springs, wetlands, streams and catchment area restoration. Keystone’s work in this area has been ongoing since 2006 when the Wetland Study identified Happy Valley as an important wetland for Kotagiri town. The Wetlands Study had surveyed 40 wetlands in and around the Nilgiris.
Happy Valley is a small area, less than an acre, in the valley slope just below the Keystone campus. The valley floor, which is a wetland, has a number of wells including the Panchayat well that supplies water to Kotagiri town. The Happy Valley area, belonging to the Panchayat, was used by the local communities for open defecation and dumping garbage. Thus, the spring water source just below the catchment area was highly contaminated with faecal matter and other solid waste. After the presentation in Manda Arae today, all 29 visitors from Pillur and Aracode went down to the valley to look at the spring source and wetlands. They also walked through the patch of Panchayat land where restoration had been done with native shola forests. Aradukuttan, Subject Manager – Nurseries, took them through the history of Happy Valley and how the local schools, households living in the valley and the local governing bodies all came together to set about restoring the land.
The community who used the area for open defecation were encouraged to build toilets, where Keystone helped in buying materials and manpower provided by the community themselves. The area which was covered with bushes and weeds was cleaned and fenced off by the Panchayat. Keystone raised a nursery of native shola trees and did a restoration activity in the area in 2006 with the participation of community, panchayat and a local school. Till date, more than 1000 saplings of 26 native shola species have been planted. This area was monitored continuously and, by 2016, the saplings had grown into a thriving patch of forest.
Soon, the effect of the catchment area restoration was visible to all. The spring which used to go dry by the summer season earlier, now became perennial. Even though the wetland and the valley has seen a significant increase in the number of wells in the past few years, this small patch of shola forest has ensured, sustained and balanced the water level in the wells. Aradukuttan, Gokul and Selvi explained that the positive changes in the water situation in Happy Valley started to be evident 5 years ago when the spring regenerated. They explained that restoration is an ongoing process and the area is under constant maintenance to remove exotic species. The visiting villagers were able to see parallels between the earlier situation in Happy Valley and their current situation and are eager to begin similar projects in their area.
They will be coordinating with the local community resource persons, Kannan in Aracode and Chandran in Pillur, who will take the lead in identifying watersheds in the community-owned lands where the Happy Valley model can be replicated after modifications to suit the specific area. This activity is part of the project on strengthening ground water management in the Nilgiris with a focus on springs conservation which is funded by Arghyam, which is a grantmaking foundation with a focus on groundwater and sanitation.