Cooum Estuary

The name of Cooum appears to be derived from Tamil Literature. The word “coovalan” denotes a person who is well versed in the science of hydrology. It is likely, that the River Cooum might have derived its name from such a usage (Rajamanickam, 1970; Mudaliar, 1981). The River Cooum, once a freshwater source is a today a drainage course collecting surpluses of 75 small tanks of a minor basin. The length of the river is about 65 km, of which 18 km, fall within the Chennai city limits (Sundaresan, 1986).

The River Cooum is a typical example of the biodegradation of a natural watercourse. It enters Madras city limits near Arumbakkam and winds its way through the city for about 18 km flowing through Choolaimedu, Chetpet, Egmore, and Chindadripet. Because of its twisting course through the heart of the city, the river carries the major portion of the stormwater drainage from Madras city during the rainy season.

The Kesavaram dam diverts the river into the Chembarambakkam Lake from which water is utilized for the supply of drinking water to the city of Madras. Thereafter, the flow of water in the river is totally reduced (Kothandaraman,, 1986).



The River Cooum carries large quantities of sullage, sewage, and cattle wash. The river is stagnant and contains a lot of silt. The silt is supposed to be two to three feet deep at certain places. It is reported that the net amount of silt deposited in the river is 3200 tonnes/year. As a result, the oxygen content is reduced to a level below which fish cannot live (Azariah, J. and Azariah, H. 1987a).


The water body has been subjected to heavy stress due to organic pollution, thus preventing it from regenerating itself. Several places along the banks are used to rear and perpetuate buffaloes. There are unauthorized hutments situated on the banks and these directly dump garbage, excreta, and sullage into the Cooum. Several hotels in the city are discharging sewage into the river at various points. Effluents from a variety of industries heavily pollute it (Rao, 1987). Therefore, far from being an asset to the city, the river has turned into a black spot mainly due to human activities. The river is an “eyesore” to permanent residents and visitors alike and is not fit for any use.


The river mouths or estuaries have also been identified as EHS, which includes Adyar and Cooum. The major threats to these EHS are the increasing pressure of human activities such as sand mining, increasing hutments, dumping of wastes and encroachments. They cause significant damage to plants, animals, and birds. Developmental activities also cause irreversible changes because they badly displace the native vegetation. The people and the Government should take necessary action to stop sand mining activity and vehicular traffic must be banned in order to preserve the unique ecosystems.


  • Azariah, J. and Azariah, H., “Let the fishes live in Cooum”, Blackbuck,  Madras  Natural  History  Society, Vol. III, No.384:12-19, 1987c.
  • “Environmental Status of Adyar Creek – A Preliminary Report” Exnora Naturalists’ Club (ENC), Environmental Youth Service Programme (EYSP) from 15 to 31 May, 1997.
  • Kothandaraman, H., S. Viswanathan and A. Kulasekaran, “A perspective study in River Cooum”, Seminar on River Cooum – “Let it be a resource”, pp. 4.3-4.10, University of Madras, 1986.
  • Mudaliar, S. A., Abithana Chinthamani – The Encyclopaedia of Tamil Literature, pp. 101-103, Asian educational services, New Delhi, 1981.
  • Rajamanickam, M., A critical study of Pathupattu, pp. 781, University of Madras, Madras, 1970.
  • Rao, V.K., “Health hazards of the  Cooum river”, Seminar on River Cooum – Let it be a resource, pp.8.1- 8.14, University of Madras, 1986.
  • Sanjeevaraj, P.J., “Eco-sensitive areas in need of protection”, Madras Musings, Vol. XII, No. 11, pp.1 & 8, 2002.
  • Sundaresan, B.B., “Cooum river – A resource”, “Seminar on River Cooum – Let it be a resource”, 1–7, University of Madras, June 14, 1986.
  • Theodore Baskaran. S, “Death of an estuary”, The Hindu, January 12, 2003.

Dr. M. Amirthalingam

Source: Eco News, Vol.9, No.1 (April – June), 2003.

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