Support for a better supply system


Photo: AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

THE Institution of Engineers, Malaysia (IEM) notes with great concern the frequent disruptions to water supply in the Klang Valley lately.

Water pollution has been cited as the main reason for these disruptions, as water treatment plants were unable to cope with the high level of pollution in the raw water.

Having industrial activities along rivers has always posed high risks of polluting our water resources. As such, adequate safety measures and strict adherence to guidelines are important to prevent pollution.

The existing Sungai Selangor Phase One, Two and Three water treatment plants and the Rantau Panjang water treatment plant collectively serve over a million customer accounts, and detection of any pollution will seriously disrupt the water supply to some of the country’s largest urban centres in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Selangor.

The authorities who issue licenses to those industries along rivers and tributaries should consider improving the way in which hazard identification and risk assessment processes are conducted. These processes are designed to identify the likelihood of a mishap occurring as well as to estimate the possible magnitude and extent of harmful effects if such mishaps occur. With improved assessment, appropriate control measures (such as engineering controls, substitution or elimination) could be implemented to prevent pollution from taking place.

Another area that needs to be improved is enforcement and early action in the event of a water pollution incident. Based on past incidents, by the time the pollutant was detected, it had already reached the treatment plant intake. This deprives the treatment plants of any early warning or time buffer to react in a timely manner much less provide enough notice to customers to prepare for a supply disruption.

The general public must also play a role by reporting any suspicious discharge activities by drains and rivers, including pollutants from municipal activities such as wet markets, restaurants, vehicle maintenance workshops and laundries. It would be better if the authorities could launch an awareness campaign among the general populace to instil consciousness about the need to deter pollution and to use our water supply sparingly.

If we want members of the public to come forward and report illegal activities, channels to do so easily must be provided. Nonstructural measures such as public outreach programmes are crucial in achieving such goals too.

IEM also views with great concern the fact that after each disruption of the water supply, it takes up to four days for service recovery to reach the last household. Such a level of service recovery would not be acceptable in the major cities of the world. Given that there are many engineering measures and solutions available to shorten the service recovery period, IEM is prepared to work with the water authorities to improve the supply system.

IEM would like to support initiatives by all parties, including the Department of Environment, Selangor Water Management Authority, Air Selangor and others, to immediately manage the ongoing battle in combating water pollution, and to safeguard our precious water resources towards achieving a sustainable water management system.

IEM would like to propose that a comprehensive study be carried out on the pollutant loads produced in the whole river basin that are fed to water intake points on any given day. The total maximum daily load (TMDL) concept should be adopted, where the maximum pollutant loads that each polluter could potentially discharge should be allocated rather than the generalised Standard A or B currently being enforced without considering the TMDL at intake points.

IEM also proposes the development of an assessment process that allows the authorities to predict the level of water pollution over time; such a system should then be integrated with a geographical information system. With this, the authorities would be able to give early warning to consumers before a supply disruption actually occurs.

As the largest professional organisation for engineers in the country, IEM is willing to provide continuous technical support to work hand-in-hand with the authorities to ensure a sustainable water supply system.

ONG CHING LOON

President, Institution of Engineers, Malaysia (IEM)

Note: IEM is a civil society organisation established to promote the science and profession of engineering.

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