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26th September 1999

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Beira to breathe again

The SLRDC launches a project to cleanse the algae-choked lake

By Tharuka Dissanaike

A clean Beira Lake by year 2000?

Beira LakePerhaps not so soon, but Colombo's residents will be pleased to know that some work is underway to clear up the ailing lake and breathe fresh air into its algae-choked lungs.

Last Friday, the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation launched the 'test' phase of an ambitious project to de-silt and aerate the Beira to improve its looks and functions.

This Rs. 26 million project will only focus on the south-west section of the Beira. Bordered by Perahera Mawatha and Nawam Mawatha, this section at 11.4 hectares is only one sixth of the entire 65.4 hectare Beira.

The dredging of the lake will continue until December. Almost two feet of silt will be scraped off the bottom of the lake. The sludge will be deposited on special geo-material in a corner of the lake itself- near the Colombo Commercial Co. building and Gangaramaya end. The filter will drain the water back into the lake and retain the polluted mud and silt, until it is disposed of at another site.

"The lake is so badly silted that at some points small islands have begun to appear," said G. Alawattegama, Deputy General Manager of Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLRDC).

Mr. Alawattegama warned that the dredging phase will not look pretty. "The lake will be muddy and murky. But after the dredging, we will use high-pressure pumps to aerate the water and cleanse it of impurities. At this stage the water should look more natural and less of a thick green mass of algae bloom."

Mr. Alawattegama said, SLRDC's aim, was to subsequently use the Beira as a means of flood control for the central Colombo City areas. "At present we have a problem when the Kelani level rises and the lock gates at Nagalagam street have to be closed. Colombo's flood waters have to drain into the sea through the Dehiwala and Wellawatte canal outlets and the Modera tunnel, which is narrow."

The Beira, he said, would be ideal to take in water from St. Sebastian's canal and release it to the sea at Galle Face. For this purpose the SLRDC will be building two new lock gates at Galle Face so that flood level water can be released to the sea. This will also result in some circulation of water resulting in better water quality in the lake. Severe stagnation has been at the root of Beira's ills.

Many of us plying through Fort would have observed the huge tunnelling point near the TransAsia hotel. This is another phase of the Beira Lake restoration, undertaken this time by the Urban Development Authority. The underground tunnel will consist of pipelines running along the periphery of the Beira Lake, intercepting illegal waste water, septic tank waste and chemical effluents flowing into the lake and diverting these into the central sewer system. This will cut off pollutants flowing into the Beira Lake from illegal tenements, houses, factories and garages around the lake.

Beira LakeBut even with the pollutant source cut off it is necessary to clean up the lake mechanically, said Mr. Alawattegama. He hopes that with the next monsoon, the South-West Beira will be quite a different lake.

The SLRDC has yet to decide on the fate of the sludge that will be collected from the lake's bottom. Earlier funding agencies like the World Bank and Japanese OECF had disagreed as to the mode of disposal, even vetoing off-shore dumping of the silt. "We have to analyse the sludge and determine its toxicity before deciding on the best possible method of disposal," Mr. Alawattegama said.

He said the SLRDC's venture into the Beira Lake clean-up was due to long term negotiations with funding agencies which were not progressing satisfactorily. He said the Corporation would look at the present clean-up as a pilot project to convince the funding agencies to cough up the cash for the rest of the Beira.

"We are employing our own methods to de-silt this lake to show the agencies that it can be done. We were left with the option of sitting back and simply talking about how to do it, or actually trying to find practical solutions."

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