Time to clean up our act

  • Behind The Cage
  • Friday, 03 Oct 2014

Garbage is a common site in almost all rivers.

Instead of clear fresh water, Malaysia is sadly known for its muddy and foul-smelling rivers.

MALAYSIA is unfortunately known to have many teh tarik coloured rivers with a bad smell, which is not the most attractive quality to have for our waters.

Although Malaysia is abundant with water sources, many of them are pretty much useless because they are contaminated with pollutants. The murky brown waters are largely due to the elevated levels of earth, sand, and silt in the water. While, the smell is due to the hidden pollutants in the water, such as, high levels of ammonia, organics and bacteria.

The issue of contaminated water was seen in the closure of the Cheras Batu 11 and Bukit Tampoi treatment plants in February because ammonia levels in the rivers were in excess of 1.5 mg/L, rendering the water unsuitable for consumption.

“The plants had no choice but to shut down because they did not have the capability to remove the contaminants,” said Associate Professor in Water Quality and Modelling at International Islamic University Malaysia Professor Dr Zaki Zainudin.

The sad thing is that our waters might get even more polluted due to future developments that will contribute to the pollution load by releasing their pollutants in the river.

Even though there are limits and regulations that dictate the pollutant levels that are released into the rivers, Dr Zaki says that these guidelines are flawed.

“The mere compliance to the limits stipulated in the Environmental Quality (Sewage Effluent) Regulations 2009, does not guarantee the water quality of the river will be preserved,” he said.

“Our laws specifies the quality (or concentration) of contaminants that can be released into the rivers. But it doesn’t quantify the quantity (or load) of the waste that is being discharged.”

“Nature has the ability to take in the waste, which is known as the river’s Waste Assimilative Capacity (WAC). But our rivers have limits, there’s only so much the river can dilute.

“If the amount of effluent released to the river is too big, there may still be contamination,” he said.

Rubbish clogging Sungai Tabuan.

Therefore, in order to preserve and improve our water quality, our regulations should take into account the river’s dilution capacity and set limits to the quantity and quality, which is known as the pollution load, accordingly.

Dr Zaki explained that in the case of the Cheras Batu 11 and Bukit Tampoi water treatment plants, the total pollution load was large enough that it breached the WAC during this dry season.

“To maintain good water quality, the pollution load should always be less than the WAC,” he said, adding that it’s been approach adopted in countries like the United States to better manage the water quality of their streams and rivers.

But unfortunately, there are still several pollution sources in Malaysia that are not properly regulated.

Perhaps if the government allocated more resources into the better management and overall cleanliness of our water sources, we could have tapped into our rivers to use it as a water resource during the dry season earlier this year.

“But the most important thing is that pollution loads needs to be reduced. Pollution not only affects us but the environment as well,” said Dr Zaki, adding that polluted rivers affects marine life populations as well.

Even though the government is currently embarking on the River of Life project where they are spending RM4.4bil on the rehabilitation and beautification of Klang river, I still question its effectiveness.

We need to tackle the pollution problem from the source - which leads back to the pollution load being released into our rivers.

It is clear that the reduction in pollution loads is the only sustainable solution to improve the water quality of our rivers and other water bodies.

“There are no shortcuts to clean water,” said Dr Zaki, and I couldn't agree more.

We all need to learn how to live without having our water sources suffer at our expense. Think about the future of our children and the water we are leaving them to deal with.

It is now time to clean up our act before it is too late.

>  The views expressed are entirely the writer's own
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