White clouds of foam speckled with dirt creep over weeds and shrubs, wafting onto the crowded street. Itâ€™s a sight that Bengalureans have become uncomfortably used to as Varthur Lake turns to toxic foam after every spell of rain.
Bengaluru was blessed by the rain gods earlier this week as a weakened Cyclone Vardah moved inland after hitting Chennai on Monday. But for those living near Varthur Lake, the rains have once again brought fear and dread as toxic froth is carried by the wind into the streets.
Even as residents are bewildered about the "return of the froth," officials at Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB) continue to repeat the same old assurances of taking measures to sort out the matter.
A resident and lake volunteer with Whitefield Rising said that he was taken aback by the latest episode of lake frothing, despite assurances from the BWSSB on sorting out the environmental hazard.
"We understand that the board would need time to set up new Sewage Treatment Plants. But what about the plants that they already have? What is the output from there? And why can't they remove the silt from the lake? The last time this was done was over forty years ago. The board should at least give the lake a chance. We are not asking for a swimming pool, but we are only asking them to remove the sludge so that at least the fish can survive in it," the volunteer said.
Admitting that Varthur Lake foaming has now become a regular matter, an official at BWSSB chose to blame it on procedural delays for not finding a solution.
"It is not that we are not aware that this is happening, but one must understand that the lake has been polluted for over decades. And the board cannot sort it out in a matter of a month or two. Four Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) are set to come up in the area, but it will take at least 2 years for the construction to be completed," the official said.
She added that it will take the Board a couple of years to build the treatment plants and remove the silt that is heavily polluted with heavy metals. According to the Board, there are 14 functioning STPs in core areas across the city. Four more are set to be built in Hulimavu, Sarakki, Agara and Begur.
However, even with the tender for these plants still underway, the officials seem confident that the board will be able to solve the frothing crisis in a matter of two years.
SM Ramakrishna, Chief Engineer of Waste Water Management at BWSSB blamed detergents and industrial effluents for the toxic foam.
"The lake froths only when it rains, there is nothing we can do immediately or for short term benefit. Also, this problem is there only in the outer zones, that were added to the purview of BBMP in 2007, that lacks infrastructure. The board has to provide UGD network for the four proposed STPs and it is not something we can do immediately," he explained.
The officials also cited a "financial crunch" for the delay in speeding up the construction.
Until then, residents near Varthur lake will have to live with the toxic froth every time it rains.