SPAN seeks stiffer penalties

Stocking up: A resident of USJ 11 filling a bucket with water from a water supply lorry.

PETALING JAYA: With water cuts due to pollution fast becoming a regular occurrence across the country, the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) wants to impose stiffer penalties on polluters.SPAN chairman Charles Santiago said tougher penalties and enforcement efforts must be in place to preserve the quality and cleanliness of the water supply.

“The government must come up with policies and laws with stringent penalties, especially for factories, individuals or sewage plants dumping their waste into the rivers.

“The penalties should go right up to the owners of the offending companies and they should not be allowed to run their business for five years after they have been found guilty, ” he added.

This followed a water supply cut affecting 372,031 households in the Petaling district, Hulu Langat, Kuala Langat and Sepang in Selangor.

Although the water treatment plant in Semenyih resumed operations 13 hours later, Air Selangor said it was the fourth incident this year involving a main plant, leading to large-scale unscheduled water cuts.As at 1pm yesterday, Air Selangor reported that 47% of supply had been restored.

In June, odour pollution was detected in the raw water source in Sungai Semenyih.

On July 19, another odour pollution was detected in the raw water source in Sungai Selangor.

A few days after that, diesel contamination was detected in the water source in Sungai Selangor, resulting in four water treatment plants having to shut down.

Although there were suspicions of sabotage, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador ruled it out as a cause of the pollution.He said the diesel spill was more likely due to the negligence of the company’s employees.

Santiago said education must go hand in hand with penalties as the “biggest culprits” were those who did not understand the importance of protecting the country’s water sources.

“Ordinary folk, factories, plantations, farmers – they release their waste in rivers to cut costs but they are actually passing the costs to society, Air Selangor and Indah Water Konsortium.

“We need to declare rivers as national security areas. This means we need to have a different way of treating our rivers.

“We cannot inspect the entire river, that is too huge. But we have to treat rivers as a priority area and currently, the government is not giving priority to this, ” he said.

Water operators, Santiago added, needed to have proper buffer zones and improve systems that detect foreign objects or waste entering the water system.

Water quality expert Dr Zaki Zainudin said better management of water catchment areas was needed.

“The pollution that occurs upstream of the water intake plant is largely due to development activities there. There are town areas, industrial areas, sewage treatment plans and sand mining activities, ” he said.The best way to minimise the risk of water contamination, he added, was to totally gazette water catchment areas and keep all activities away from such areas.

“It would be difficult to ensure that all factories comply with regulations regarding their discharge and waste. Why put the risk there in the first place?” he asked.

Zaki said even if the companies adhered to the limits as allowed by the Environment Quality Act 1974, it did not mean that the water quality was being preserved.

He said for existing development plans and buildings, advanced systems to process and manage their effluent discharge must be in place.

“But we shouldn’t allow more development in such areas. We must make sure we don’t increase the pollution load, ” he said.

The country was recently riddled with issues of contaminated rivers and water sources, with Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang, Johor, as a prime example.

Malaysian Water Forum president Saral James Maniam urged the government to put in place buffer zones, which are areas designated for protection from contamination and pollution.

But she noted that protecting the water supply was “a responsibility shared by the government, industries, businesses, communities and individuals”.

The government is drafting new legislation to replace the Environment Quality Act 1974, meting out harsher punishment on those who commit environmental offences.

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