A few days ago, residents of Areacode in Kerala's Malappuram district were taken aback when they spotted a mysterious blue-green layer on Chaliyar River.
Chaliyar River that originates in Wayanad district, flows through the districts of Malappuram and Kozhikode. Scientists at the Water Quality Division, Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM) in Kozhikode tested the water samples from the river and found the presence of two types of cyanobacteria – microcystis and anabaena.
This, scientists point out, can cause neurological issues in people, over and above harming the biodiversity of the water body.
More than a week since the moderately toxic algae was found, the Areacode grama panchayat is yet to start clearing out the water body.
According to Dr Dipu Sukumaran, a scientist at the Water Quality Division of CWRDM, instructions have already been given to the panchayat to remove the algae at the earliest.
Dr Dipu says that the presence of this type of algae in water bodies in Kerala is an unusual phenomenon. According to him, the rise in temperatures provides a favourable condition for the algae to multiply.
"This type of algae is formed when there is stagnant water and there is an active source of nutrients, like say from sewage, large dumping of waste, etc. As the temperature rises, the multiplicity accelerates," Dr Dipu said.
He added that one side of the river, upstream of Areacode for at least 5 km, has been affected by the algae already. This calls for the need to remove the algae formation at the earliest.
According to Dr Harikumar, Senior Principal Scientist at CWRDM, this type of bacteria has not been detected in such a large scale anywhere in the state and could kill the fish and harm to biodiversity.
"We have asked the panchayat officials to remove the algae soon. Naturally, it will go away once there is rain and the natural flow of river is regained. It can also be mechanically removed using pumps. More than the immediate damage, such types of bacteria can cause long-term impact. While this type of algae is a common phenomenon in other countries, it hasn't been reported from anywhere in Kerala yet, that too in such a huge area," Dr Harikumar said.
The scientists at CWRDM said that the residents have been advised against coming in direct contact with the water in affected areas.
Complaint against local bodies for inaction
With the Kerala Water Authority pumping water from Chaliyar River for distribution in Kozhikode and Malappuram district, environmental activists have expressed concern over the issue.
Anveshana Bandhu, an NGO based in Kozhikode, has written to the Prime Minister seeking intervention, alleging that the local bodies, including the Water and Health Department, have done nothing to address the concerns of the people.
Speaking to TNM, the NGO's secretary Jaleel said that the police and the panchayat officials have turned a blind eye towards complaints raised by residents against the illegal dumping of waste into the river.
"Shops along the banks of the river indiscriminately dump waste into it. Despite complaints, no action has been taken against them at all. Even when we complain, the police and other authorities side with the offenders and target complainants. There is absolutely no use of destroying a water body first and then launching schemes to revive it. That is why we have written to the Prime Minister now," Jaleel said.
He said that no efforts have been taken by the panchayat in removing the algae formation, even after a week since it was spotted. Despite repeated attempts, Areacode panchayat president Muneera could not be reached.