At 75, Chennai’s first reservoir in Poondi is now parched

Poondi dam - The Federal
Constructed across the Kosasthalayar river, Poondi Reservoir has a capacity to store more than 3,000 Mcft water

Tamil Nadu is under severe drought due to lack of rainfall and humidity. And hence, most of the dams and reservoirs across the state are drying out. One such reservoir is Poondi Reservoir, located in Thiruvallur district, 60 kms from Chennai. It is said to be the first reservoir built to fulfill the water needs of the city.

Constructed across the Kosasthalayar river, it has a capacity to store more than 3,000 Mcft water. The construction of the reservoir was conceived and realised by the then mayor of Madras, Sathyamurthy, who was also a freedom fighter. In the late 1930s, the city witnessed a heavy water shortage for potable drinking water due to lack of rainfall which led to the decrease in groundwater.   

“In the 1860s, the British built a dam across Kosasthalayar near Thamaraipakkam to let the surplus water from the river into Red Hills lake through Sholavaram. Even then, the surplus water was being drained into the sea. Then, Sathyamurthy devised a plan to build a reservoir at a place called Poondi, to store water from Kosasthalayar,” says historian Venkatesh Ramakrishnan.

Satyamurthy, who served as mayor only for a year in 1939, gave a proposal to the British to construct a reservoir. But the British did not accept it since it required around Rs 60 lakh for its construction. That was when the British got engaged in the second World War.

However, through his continued effort, the then Governor of Madras Presidency, Sir Arthur Hope, who served between 1940 and 1946, laid the foundation stone for constructing the reservoir.

Soon after the completion of the dam, Madras will have lot of lawns and swimming pools, Ramakrishnan quoted Sathyamurthy. “He also said that even when the future of my country hangs in doubt, I have no doubts on the civic future of my city” the historian added.

It took four years for the construction to be over and it was opened on June 14, 1944. But Sathyamurthy could not witness it since he died a year ago. During the inaugural ceremony of the dam, the British officials not even mention Sathyamurthy’s name and called it ‘Poondi Reservoir’.

It was because of Congress leader K Kamaraj’s effort, a resolution was passed in Corporation Council in 1948 to rechristen the reservoir. It was renamed as  ‘Sathyamurthy Sagar’ in 1954 when Kamaraj became chief minister of the state. Many of the public works department engineers and hydrology experts considers this reservoir as the first of its kind in the city and other reservoirs, such as Puzhal and Sholavaram, came much later.

Besides the reservoir, the Institute of Hydraulics and Hydrology, which is also located in Poondi, celebrates its platinum jubilee this year. Established as Irrigation Research Station by the GO 440 of the then Madras Presidency in 1944, the institute came into existence only in 1945.

“This research station participated in the Indian International Engineering Exhibition in 1951 at New Delhi, where the model of Mettur dam was exhibited,” writes K Anbu, the director of the institute, in an article published in the May issue of ‘Poriyalar’ magazine, run by the Association of Engineers and Assistant Engineers Association, Public Works Department (PWD), Tamil Nadu.

Subsequently, under the leadership of P Kumarasamy, the institute’s first director, it has also conducted several hydrological studies related to various projects such as flood protection works in Adyar river, studies for suggesting suitable drainage system to Neyveli second lignite mine, remedial measures against sea erosion in north of Madras harbour along Royapuram coast and energy dissipation studies for Sothuparai Reservoir Project, Kodaikanal Water Supply Project and Panchava Dam Project in Rajasthan, lists the magazine.

While the reservoir is now without a single drop of water in its 75th year, the PWD engineers feel that the research institute’s resources are ‘under-utilised’. “It is the right time to regenerate this institute,” says Anbu in the article.