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Sunday September 8, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday September 8, 2013 MYT 8:08:19 AM
by rashvinjeet s. bedi AND t. avineshwaran
The water treatment plant at Rantau Panjang. The Star reporters managed to sneak into the premises as there was no security guard at the guardhouse.
The oil spillage at Sungai Selangor which resulted in a major water disruption in the Klang Valley last Sunday has shown just how vulnerable and exposed our water sources are.
ENGINEER Mohd Rizal Shah was looking forward to celebrating this year’s Merdeka Day with pomp and splendour with his friends and family.
That celebration, however, had to be muted because there was no water.
“I was so frustrated I couldn’t take my shower. I didn’t want to sweat, so I just stayed at home all day long, and didn’t go out except to buy bottled water,” says the 26-year-old who lives in Gombak.
Rizal was just one of millions in the Klang Valley who encountered dry taps last weekend.
The cause of the disruption was traced to a factory in Jalan Batu Arang that spilled used engine oil into a drain flowing into Sungai Gong, a tributary of Sungai Selangor.
Traces of oil spillage were spotted 10km upstream from the water intake point of Sungai Selangor Phase 1 (SSP1) water treatment plant in Batang Berjuntai.
This resulted in the closure of four water treatment plants along Sungai Selangor namely SSP1, SSP2, SSP3 and Rantau Panjang, resulting in a water shortage in the Klang Valley.
These plants alone produce 2.67 billion litres of water daily, catering to about 57% of the demand in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya. The Department of Irrigation and Irrigation (DID) took immediate action to trap the oil by installing log and oil booms across the river.
The Indah Water Konsortium (IWK) also provided six tankers to suck the oil out from the river, similar to how they remove the sludge from the septic tank in domestic premises.
“Oil is not easily treated in any water treatment plant. If there is any oil spillage in the river, the water treatment plant has to be shut down to prevent the oil from entering the water supply system,” says the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHA) in an e-mailed response to The Star.
Forum Air Malaysia senior executive Foon Weng Lian says the closure was the correct step in this instance.
“If the oil had gone into the treatment plant, it would have been a disaster,” he says, adding that the water supply disruption would be longer if that had happened.
Luckily, the plants were up and running by 6am on Merdeka Day and most of the Klang Valley had minimal water disruptions. The incident, however, raised questions on the safety of the water that comes out from our taps.
KeTTHA says the water supply system in Malaysia covers many aspects such as protection of rivers and raw water sources in catchment areas, collection and storage of raw water in dams and storage, abstraction of raw waters at intakes along rivers, treatment of raw water and distribution of treated water.
Water security and protection of rivers and catchments come under the state governments’ jurisdiction.
Most states have established their own regulatory bodies, such as Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS), Johor Water Management Authority (BAKAJ) and Malacca Water Management Authority (BKSAM) to manage and monitor activities related to water resources within the state.
KeTTHA says some water treatment plant operators have installed online instrumentation at river mouths to detect chemicals such as ammonia.
This serves as an alert for the operators before the pollution reaches the water intake. However, these parameters can’t detect substances like oil and diesel.
KeTTHA also stresses that water safety is very important as treatment plant operators carry out water quality tests at all stages of treatment process continuously or at two-hour intervals to ensure that the quality of treated water meets the standard.
However, if there are traces of oil or diesel at the intake, the water will be immediately stopped from entering the treatment plant and the plant ceases operation.
Water treatment plants are categorised as security areas and are fenced and guarded.
Following the diesel spill incident, The Star conducted checks at three water treatment plants in Batang Berjuntai and found two of them heavily guarded. To enter the premises, one needed written permission from the authorities.
However, the Rantau Panjang plant was not guarded and we managed to enter the area without being checked and snapped photos of the plant.
Protect water sources
Plant shutdown due to oil or diesel spillages is not new; it previously occurred in Cheras Bt 11 Water Treatment Plant (WTP), Gombak WTP and Sg Semenyih WTP.
The latest incident shows just how vulnerable and exposed our raw water sources are to human and industrial activities.
KeTTHA adds that major river basins like Sungai Selangor, Sungai Semenyih and Sungai Langat in Selangor, Sungai Muda in Kedah, Sungai Muar in Malacca and Johor as well as Sungai Johor need protection.
“These major river basins provide main water sources for many of the states and if polluted, the sources will be severely affected,” they say.
As an immediate measure, the Selangor government has ordered all local councils in the state not to approve development projects near river tributaries. The move is to give enforcement officers time to inspect factories currently operating near rivers.
Selangor executive council member in charge of tourism, consumer affairs and environment Elizabeth Wong has said that LUAS is monitoring and securing water resources from pollution.
According to Wong, LUAS has submitted a proposal for three river reserves (Selangor Basin, Klang Basin and Langat Basin) to be gazetted as Zone of Protection to the Department of Survey and Mapping Malaysia (JUPEM) who will do the final survey.
“Only certain activities will be allowed on the river reserves and they will not harm the rivers,” she says.
Foon urges Selangor to gazette all the rivers that serve as the main water sources as permanent water catchment areas. They are Sungai Kroh, Sungai Kubu, Sungai Langat, Sungai Rasau. Sungai Rumput, Sungai Selangor, Sungai Sembah, Sungai Serai, Sungai Subang and Sungai Tengi.
He points out that the Sungai Semenyih water treatment plant had encountered many problems because of pollution and had to be shut down.
In January this year, the plant which caters to over 1.5 million people was shut down after raw water from Sungai Kembong was found to be contaminated by leachate from a landfill.
“The lining of a landfill is just next to the riverbank. The pollution there has to be stopped,” says Foon.
Foon calls for stern and punitive action to be taken against culprits who pollute natural water sources. He points out that the culprit in the Sg Kembong pollution had been issued more than 14 summonses.
“There is no sense of urgency on the part of the regulators and enforcement officers when it comes to water pollution in this case. The operation of this premises should be sealed after the third summon,” he says.
Urgent need for Langat 2
From the risk management perspective, KeTTHA and SPAN have highlighted the urgent need for the Pahang-Selangor Raw Water Transfer Project and Langat 2 Water Treatment Plant.
“It is part of the government’s measure to diversify the raw water sources to mitigate the risk of over-dependency on Sungai Selangor,” says KeTTHA.
Besides meeting the increasing water demands of the people in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, the scheme also serves to address the pollution risk that could affect the water supply to these areas.
When completed, Pahang-Selangor Raw Water Transfer Project (1,890 MLD raw water) and Langat 2 WTP and Networks (Phase 1 Designed Capacity of 1,130 MLD) will receive raw water from Sg Semantan in Pahang, which is located in a different catchment.
The plant will supply water to southern parts of the Klang Valley as well as reinforce supply to most areas served by the five existing treatment plants.
“In the event of severe river pollution, like what happened during the recent oil spillage, the risk would be diversified and not many areas would be affected as the supply could be diverted from Langat 2 WTP,” says KeTTHA.
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