RIVERS, lakes and groundwater are the main sources of water supply in Malaysia. Of the three, rivers are the main source in almost all parts of the country.
However, the quality of our river water has deteriorated over time due mainly to pollution. The major sources of pollution are sewage treatment plants and sewerage companies, agriculture and manufacturing industries.
The management of sewage in Malaysia is far from holistic, as there are sources that do not come under Indah Water Konsortium Sdn Bhd (IWK), a private company that has been managing sewage disposal and sewerage works for 86 out of 144 local authorities in Peninsular Malaysia since 1994.
These include private sewage treatment plants and individual septic tanks. Currently, there are some 1.35 million septic tanks nationwide and most are in the city outskirts and small towns in premises or houses that were built more than 30 years ago. According to IWK, less than 10% of these septic tank owners or users conduct scheduled desludging.
The Water Services Industry (Desludging Services) Regulations 2021, which came into force in Malaysia on March 30, 2021, require owners and occupiers of premises connected to a septic tank to carry out desludging regularly.
This ruling has resulted in the mushrooming of private sewerage companies, with most being highly profit-oriented family-owned businesses.
In addition to providing desludging services for factories, some of these companies also collect chemical waste from their clients.
Some of them are not licensed to collect these materials. As such, there have been reports in the press of companies discharging chemical waste into IWK sewerage manholes, resulting in pollution at the IWK treatment facilities.
In October 2021, the government passed the Water Services Industry (Prohibited Effluent) Regulations 2021, which stipulates that no person shall discharge or permit the discharge of any “prohibited effluent” specified in the regulation into a public sewage system or public sewage treatment plant without the approval of the National Water Services Commission (SPAN). The offence carries a fine and jail sentence.
With these recent regulations on management of sewage, we hope to see a reduction in pollution of water sources. However, the sentences that have been imposed on offenders recently do not commensurate with the offences, and I hope to see heftier penalties in the future.