MIRI: A massive oil spill forced a major water treatment plant near here to shut down yesterday, interrupting the supply of 125 million litres of water daily to a population of 300,000 people in the city.
The Lambir Water Treatment Plant, located about 16km from the city centre, had to close when the raw water intake section was affected after Sungai Liku, the main river supplying water to the plant, became contaminated with oil coming from a leaking diesel-bitumen pipeline.
Environment Department's chief for northern Sarawak, Siva Nathiran, said more than 14,000 litres of diesel and bitumen had seeped into the river yesterday.
“Efforts are being made now to clear the pollutants. It may take at least a day to contain the spill.
“Our department has taken samples of the river water for examination. We are also investigating whether there has been any negligence involved,” Siva said.
Meanwhile, Communications Assistant Minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin said the leakage was said to have happened around 9pm on Saturday.
“This is an emergency because an entire water treatment plant had to stop operations.
“There is no choice but for Laku (Northern Sarawak Water Supply Board) to shut down operations of the plant until the pollutants are cleared from the river.”
Lee, who is also Senadin assemblyman and former Laku chairman, added that Shell and Petronas in Miri had responded very swiftly to help contain the spill.
The Lambir treatment plant is the sole treated water supply source for the entire district.
Lee said at this critical point, the most urgent thing would be to restore the piped water supply.
“This must be the priority. Efforts must be focused on stopping the leak at the source and clearing the river water of oil contamination,” he said.
Lee said Laku had started activating its water pumps at eight underground water wells in its attempt to channel underground water into the Lambir treatment plant.
Lee said he had also asked Miri Resident, Antonio Kahti Galis to deploy personnel from the Civil Defence Department and other voluntary units to help clear the oil spill along Sungai Liku.
By noon yesterday, many supermarkets in the city were fast running out of bottled drinking and mineral water.
Apparently, there was panic buying among city folk here, which prompted city mayor Lawrence Lai to call on those affected by the dry tap to remain calm and not go on a mad rush to buy drinking water.
The mayor, it was understood, had been informed that some quarters were selling a box of drinking water at RM24 instead of between RM7 and RM9 per box.