A ‘floating’ dam to clean Chennai’s sorrow

Chitra Narayanan New Delhi | Updated on January 20, 2018

The barrier traps the garbage and deposits them on the bank. There is no need to use boats to clear them. - BIJOY GHOSH

Bengaluru-based AlphaMERS has developed a barrier that helps the Chennai Corporation clear the rubbish in the Cooum river

Those passing the Cooum near Ethiraj college might have noticed an aluminium net wall anchored on the river. This is a floating trash barrier designed by a Bengaluru-based maritime services company to help the Chennai Corporation remove garbage from the river easily.

For Chennai, which is still haunted by memories of the horrific floods that ravaged the city, it is imperative that the Cooum, the Adyar river and the Buckingham Canal flow smoothly since they drain excess rain water from the city into the sea. Despite many projects to clean it, the 65-km-long Cooum has remained a filthy stinking stretch though nature’s fury did flush out some of the rubbish last year.

Now, the Chennai Corporation is testing out a floating trash barrier developed by Bengaluru-based AlphaMERS, a company that fights oil spills for ports and oil companies. So far attempts to clean the river have involved deploying boats and manually picking out the garbage. The trash barrier will remove the need for boats as it traps the garbage and deposits it on the bank of the river, so that it can be picked up easily.

“It is a simple design in looks and functionality that uses the natural water flow to arrest the trash at one convenient location, usually where a road is close to the water body,” says DC Sekhar, Director, AlphaMERS and a former oil tanker captain. He says the company has sought a patent for the aluminium barrier, which was primarily designed for cleaning the Ganga and Yamuna.

Right now lighter versions of the same design are being piloted in Cooum and on Ulsoor lake (here it is made of steel) in Bengaluru. “The barrier in Cooum is 60 metres long, the river is about 40 metres wide and this is placed diagonally,” says Sekhar. The barrier is secured at the sides and anchored in the water. The trash hits the barrier and thanks to the flow of the water slides down it and lands downstream at the bank of the river, where it can be collected easily.

Low-cost method

According to him, the barrier method is cheaper than deploying boats since it does not cost fuel to arrest the trash 24/7 basis. He says in large rivers like the Ganges, a 50-metre section can be placed downstream of the source of solid waste – for example the Ghats where pilgrims discard offerings.

Babu Rajendran, Chief Engineer, Storm water department at Chennai Corporation, says that as yet he cannot comment on the floating barrier’s effectiveness as the project is still being tested. “The plan is to put it in 10 places and see the results,” he says.

Sekhar, however, admits that the barrier can only collect garbage; the dissolved pollutants in the river will still remain.

Interestingly, globally, a massive project is afoot to clean up the Pacific using a floating barrier. The Ocean Cleanup will deploy a 100-metre-long barrier in the North Sea, 23 km off the Netherlands coast to trap plastic debris. Learnings from this pilot will be used for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch clean up in 2020, a super ambitious project that is touted as the world's largest ocean clean-up operation.

Operation Cooum cleanup is but a little ripple when compared to that!

Published on April 27, 2016

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