Project: Rising Waters, Raising Futures Chennai

Meet the RISE CHENNAI Team


The The RISE CHENNAI team is comprised of local and global experts with experience in developing innovative, sustainable and bankable projects. The team is organised in a consortium headed by Deltares and organisations rooted in Chennai (IGCS, IIT -Madras, Care Earth Trust, and an IAS official closely-connected to Tamil Nadu’s administration), together with renowned global urban planning, design and climate resilience consultants (W&B Architecture / Landscape, Benthem Crouwel) and Arcadis NL/Arcadis IN. The team is also complemented by design-centric institutes of urban innovation (KIT) and VanderSat.

All partners are experts in developing processes and have worked together on a number of complex planning issues in Chennai and elsewhere in the world.

RISE Chennai

Created in partnership with: IIT Madras, Care Earth Trust, Karlsruhe Institute for Technology, Waggonner & Ball, Benthem Crouwel Architects, Arcadis, VanderSat

Initiating Transformative Change in Chennai


The RISE Chennai project team seeks to build upon existing knowledge to develop a design-driven process that is geared towards improving the resilience of the water system, the city, and all of its citizens.

Building on a chain of proposals for implementable projects, the team believes they have created a program of measures and interventions that should initiate true, transformative change throughout the city. They use improvements to the water system as a vehicle to improve social welfare, safeguard the environment – and most of all – reclaim the city’s future as part of a more resilient and self-reliant urban landscape.

The team's projects focus on two important areas: the Mamabalam canal and the Muttukadu backwaters basin. The Mambalam canal is one of the few remaining creeks in the center of Chennai. It connects to the Adyar River and functions as a storm water drain that collects water from the catchment. Currently, the canal is extremely deteriorated and is considered an unattractive and unsafe area behind two of the city’s most important commercial districts. Specific problems arise from the land uses along the canal which accumulate solid waste and dump sewage water. This constrains the adequate functioning of the Mambalam canal, which contributes to flooding in urban areas. On the other hand, the Muttukadu backwaters basin is a fast-changing, multifaceted area straddling the southern boundary of the city of Chennai. An expanding IT sector in this neighborhood represents the future of the city, while small-scale fishing villages along the coast embody its historic identity. Rapid, sometimes ad hoc development threatens sensitive wetlands and exacerbates water-related challenges. Effective water leverages here must “zoom out” beyond individual sites to understand the interconnectedness and potential synergies of design solutions.

© Cynthia van Elk | Water as Leverage

Proposal 1: Muthucharam Mambalam


The team's proposal for the Mambalam canal redevelops this system into a corridor that represents the new face of development in Chennai.

By turning it from a stagnant seasonal drain into a flowing perennial canal, the team capitalizes on its potential to become a thriving and central part of the city. The project proposed for the Mambalam canal aims to improve the resilience of Chennai’s water network by opening up and redesigning the canal profile, its bridges and surrounding urban developments. The provision of resilient, safe and attractive public spaces facilitates real estate and commercial developments while improving the quality and availability of urban water.

Specific strategies are:

1. Think regional, act local – Increase the level of understanding about storm water drainage so that local interventions can be strategically implemented to improve the downstream functioning of Chennai’s water management system. 2. Space for the water – Redevelop hard embankments to make space for the flexible functioning of the canal and allow opportunities for new uses for the land along its banks. 3. Strengthening connections – Transform the canal into a social corridor through a mixed-use zone for both residents and visitors, redesign key bridges as solid waste filters, and connect the canal to pocket parks that serve as infiltration trenches. 4. Decentralization – Keep clean water clean by separating and removing sewage and wastewater and investing in a network of decentralized water treatment plants. 5. Collaboration – Involve the community in the development of specific interventions alonng with private companies and government agencies.

© Cynthia van Elk | Water as Leverage

Proposal 2: Neithal Muttukadu


The proposal for Neithal Muttukadu aims to restore economic opportunities by revitalizing green and blue infrastructure.

The project introduces water harvesting measures in order to create a circular local water cycle over an extensive area from the degraded inland forests to the perimeter of the business area (SIPCOT, a Specialized Economic Zone). This revitalized waterscape then acts as a catalyst to clean up the canal, re-naturalize its banks, restore backwater sloughs, and ultimately create a new vital ecology based on ecotourism that links the basin back to the forest on higher ground. Nature-based sand nourishments protect the coast near the mouth of the basin and therefore also the businesses, residents and ecologies in proximity.

The overarching goals of this project are to develop an adaptive coastal defense plan, improve water quality of the Muttukadu Backwaters, and redesign the connections from the IT corridor in the west, across Buckingham Canal into Muttukadu and Kovalam villages by the coast. Specific strategies are:

1. Adaptive coastal defenses based on sand nourishment along Muttukadu beach, dredging of the sea outlet between Muttukadu and Kovalam beaches, installation of flap gates and pumps along Buckingham Canal, and – over the long-term – additional sand suppletion from deeper sea waters. 2. Systems thinking and decentralized actions for water quality improvement, via redirecting point sources of wastewater, implementing a distributed wastewater drainage system, and restoring the Muttukadu wetland by removing contaminated sediments and deepening the lagoon, among other strategies. 3. Functionally defining coastal zones to enable the integration of existing activities and new eco-tourism developments while contributing to a safe and biodiverse environment. 4. Transverse canals that link Old Mahabalipuram Road and the East Coast Road to the lagoon, facilitating the creation of a new island and transit-oriented urban development. 5. Habitat islands within the lagoon that can restore habitats and act as a natural mechanism to keep up with the rising sea levels (mudflats and wetlands rise over time due to organic matter accretion). 6. Collaboration through involving the community in the development of specific interventions along with private companies and government agencies.