FAT, oil and grease mushed together inside drains and grease traps that are not big enough to filter the gunk that restaurants produce is the common sight in drains throughout Brickfields.
This discovery was made during a walkabout by representatives of the National Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID), Global Environment Centre (GEC), and Indah Water Konsortium (IWK).
DID, which is spearheading river cleansing efforts for the River of Life (RoL) project in Kuala Lumpur, has roped in the two bodies to check on the state of the drains and identify sources of pollution.
DID River Basin Management director Ng Kok Seng lifted the cover of a grease trap behind a restaurant in Jalan Scott and was appalled by what he saw.
IWK section head for Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya pipeline network A. Ghani Mohamed said if they opened up the pipes, they would also see chunks of grease stuck.
“Sooner or later, these pipes will get clogged and result in sewer backups and spills like what had happened before,’’ said Ghani, who is also the Local Agenda 21 (LA21) secretariat and coordinator.
LA21 is a community initiative to create local policies and programmes that work towards achieving sustainable development.
It involves community groups, businesses and the local authority in each townships.
GEC river care programme coordinator Dr K. Kalithasan snapped photos of all the dirt he saw during the walkabout.
He also witnessed how Alam Flora garbage collectors had to keep stopping the trucks at every spot people had dumped waste indiscriminately.
GEC has been tasked to work with Brickfields stakeholders on Phase 5 of the RoL public outreach programmes (RoL-POP) to get the community to care for their rivers.
A total of RM3.4bil has been allocated to clean 110km of Sungai Klang and Sungai Gombak from its current Class III - Class IV water quality (not suitable for body contact) to Class IIB (suitable for body and recreational usage) by 2020.
After carrying out public outreach activities in the outskirts such as Hulu Kelang and Sungai Bunus, DID is now ready to take on more challenging urban areas located near riverbanks, such as Brickfields.
The township has reported high incidents of burst pipes, sinkholes and backflows.
It is also a hotspot for pollution because of the presence of restaurants, scrap metal yards, hypermarkets, flower shops, food courts, malls and hotels.
The project is about educating the people to have a sense of ownership toward the rivers that flow behind their homes, said Ng.
“We started in the outskirts of the upper Sungai Klang and Sungai Bunus basin, and we are going downstream to the urban centres that goes all the way towards the Mid Valley area’’ he said.
Consultants have been appointed to conduct the programmes and collect data on pollution levels, in order to gather public perception about the rivers that flow into their townships.
RoL-POP started with Phase 1 involving the upper Sungai Klang basin and proceeding to Phase 2 for the Sungai Bunus basin.
Phases 3A, 3B, 4 and 5 are being implemented concurrently from 2017 to 2020.
Phase 5 covers a 98.49km catchment area including Sungai Gombak, Sungai Batu, Sungai Jinjang, Sungai Keroh and Sungai Klang (western catchment) that come under the jurisdiction of the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL).
It is divided into four zones. Zone 1 is the Sungai Gombak basin and Zone 2 is Sungai Batu basin that covers Kepong and Jinjang.
Zone 3 is the Sungai Keroh basin that are mixed residential and commercial areas while Zone 4 covers the downstream of the western portion of Sungai Klang basin covering Masjid Jamek, Dayabumi Complex, Universiti Malaya campus, and the Bangsar and Brickfields townships.
The key groups targeted at urban centres are local communities, institutions, industries, corporations and developers, food establishments, wet markets and workshops.
Dr Kalithasan explained that the effects of dumping rubbish on the ground did not bode well for the environment.
“During heavy rain, the rubbish on the ground can impede the natural runoff of water and cause flash flood.
“Contaminants too would move into the drains and eventually end up in lakes and rivers, polluting the water and affecting its marine life and plants,” he said.
And this was the case in Brickfields, where Sungai Klang gently flows through.
Dr Kalithasan, who has been engaging with the community, has planned different programmes for each target group, but conceded that it was particularly tricky in Brickfields where they were dealing with large numbers of foreigners.
Another interesting aspect about Brickfields is its many religious institutions and its community were simply unaware of the impact they have on Sungai Klang.
Dr Kalithasan said a recent research by DOE on pollution sources in urban centres is the impact of domestic waste going into rivers.
“Take something as harmless as flower garlands used by temples devotees. It is actually not good for the rivers.
“People rarely think of flowers as a source of pollution,’’ he said.
Flower traders and temples devotees often throw large volumes of plant waste into drains and rivers.
Sungai Klang then receives this waste through the drainage lines.
The amount of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides used to grow these flowers still remain on the garlands, and is harmful to the eco-system of the rivers.
“All that urban runoff like flowers, plants, banana leaves, grass, and pet poo from streets, sidewalks, alleys and drains increases the oxygen demand for the decomposition of the waste and robs the aquatic organisms of oxygen.
“If this goes on, the city will end up with a dead river in their backyard,” Dr Kalithasan explained, adding that changing the mindsets of people was a challenge.
“It is not easy to tell people not to do something that they believe strongly about and have been doing for centuries
“It is hard to change the way people do things especially when it comes to religious matters,’’ he said.
Dr Kalithasan said hundreds of years ago, the rivers were able to handle the load.
But today, with industrial and plastic waste entering into the equation, the volume is too high for river to handle the pollution.
As Brickfields is going through rapid development, illegal dumping of construction waste has become another problem at the township.
Developers have been advised to prepare development, erosion, and sediment control report before starting work to control the silt from going into the rivers.