By Kurniawati Kamarudin
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – When another episode of the Klang Valley’s never-ending series of water cuts occurred last week due to contamination, most people opined that weaknesses in law enforcement are the main reason why irresponsible factory operators continue to dump their effluents into rivers.
However, according to experts, a more comprehensive analysis of incidents such as the contamination of Sungai Gong in Rawang – which caused an unscheduled disruption in water supply last week that affected 1.2 million Air Selangor account holders – will show that besides enforcement, there are several other aspects that have to be looked into.
Water quality expert Dr Zaki Zainudin said the latest incident revealed glaring weaknesses in the management of river basins, as well as in the area of water security.
“These weaknesses have to be addressed as soon as possible,” he told Bernama.
A river basin is an area of land drained by a river and its tributaries or where precipitation collects and drains off into a common outlet such as a river.
Zaki said one of the proactive measures state governments can take immediately is to carry out a detailed mapping of the wastewater and effluent control systems of factories located near riverbanks.
The state governments must make a list of industries that can and cannot be allowed to operate in the upstream areas of rivers, he said, adding that local authorities must refer to the list before granting any approval to businesses that wish to set up a plant or factory in ecologically fragile areas.
“Checks should also be carried in upstream areas to detect the presence of industries that shouldn’t be there in the first place,” he said, adding that the operators concerned should either be told to move out of the site or be barred from expanding their operations.
Last Thursday’s Sungai Gong pollution incident was attributed to effluents from a heavy machinery maintenance factory located in the Sungai Gong Industrial Area in Rawang, Selangor. The resulting pollution at the raw water source (Sungai Gong) forced the Sungai Selangor Phase 1, 2, 3 and Rantau Panjang Water Treatment Plants to stop operations.
Last year, the Klang Valley experienced disruptions in water supply at least nine times, most of which were due to contamination of the raw water supply.
The Sungai Semenyih water treatment plant, located near the confluence of Sungai Semenyih and Sungat Langat, was closed thrice last year due to odour pollution believed to have been caused by the illegal discharge of toxic effluents.
Zaki said the removal of high-risk industries from upstream areas will reduce the burden of pollution in the downstream areas where pumping stations are located. The pumping station is where raw water from the river is pumped into the water treatment plant.
Pumping stations are mostly located in downstream areas of river basins as the water volume is higher in such places.
“The problem now is that many industries and housing developments have opened up in downstream areas, so the risk of pollutants entering the river and contaminating the raw water at the intake point (pumping station) is high,” Zaki said.
Rivers have the natural capacity to purify pollutants but this process would depend on the volume of water and other factors in the river concerned.
“If a river is small or during a drought when rivers dry up, their capacity to purify pollutants is limited,” he said, adding that there should be legislation to evaluate the capacity of rivers to purify pollutants.
PRIORITISE WATER SECURITY
Malaysian Water Engineers Action Committee chairman Ishak Hasnan, meanwhile, urged the authorities to prioritise water security so that consumers need not be burdened with water supply disruptions in the future.
He said to stabilise the nation’s water security, various measures can be taken, including identifying and allocating additional raw water resources in the event a river is contaminated.
“Among the potential resources are underground water and ex-mining pools that can be reserved and maintained as sources of raw water supply for water treatment plants,” he said, adding that supply from these sources can serve as a temporary measure while waiting for the polluted river’s water quality to return to normal.
Ishak, who is an engineer at the Perak Water Board, said another measure that can be implemented is increasing the number of reserve ponds that hold clean water supply.
He said currently the authorities only have enough reserves to meet the needs of consumers for a day.
“More reserve ponds are needed so that there is enough clean water to supply to users for three to four days,” he added.
Ishak said state governments can also collaborate with each other by signing a memorandum of understanding to channel clean piped water between their states and districts.
He also said the authorities should make it compulsory for all industries to treat their effluents before they are disposed of into waterways.
“The industrial waste should comply with the established standards,” he said, adding that such disposal sites must have equipment to measure the effluents’ chemical content levels to ensure they do not exceed the approved parameters.
“The readings can be monitored online in real-time by the authorities without the need for many employees to handle the system.”
Translated by Rema Nambiar
Malaysian National News Agency
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