Many people are unaware or overlook the importance of proper wastewater management
THERE is no doubt that when nature calls, one will make their way to the toilet to conduct his biological business. The excretory system will run its course and process the removal of waste from the body into toilet systems.
Similarly, sewage wastewater from sinks in the kitchen or laundry from all sorts of premises, whether residential or business, will also be discharged into such systems.
In Malaysia, wastewater is discharged through a modern sewerage system, made up of an underground network of sewerage pipes that will lead to a centralised system in sewage treatment plants (STP), or septic tanks for some premises.
Yet, many are still unaware of what happens after flushing the toilet or who manages the disposed wastewater every day.
Perhaps this matter has been taken lightly by many, or perhaps some are still unaware that there are people behind the scenes involved in managing wastewater and sewage on a daily basis.
They not only ensure that our water resources and the environment are always protected, but also prevent any water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and many others.
The people behind the scenes ensure the sewage treatment plants operate smoothly and the emptying of septic tanks are done properly. These unsung heroes are the lifeblood of the national sewerage company, Indah Water Konsortium (IWK) Sdn Bhd.
IWK has been entrusted by the Federal government to manage and maintain an efficient sewerage system for all Malaysians that includes managing close to 7,000 STPs that span across close to 22,000km of pipeline network. Additionally, IWK maintains around 1.3 million individual septic tanks and over 800,000 traditional toilets.
Since its inception in 1994, IWK has worked hard to ensure Malaysians are protected from pollution caused by untreated wastewater. The operations and maintenance of these sewerage systems carried out by IWK run non-stop, on a daily 24-hour schedule. IWK treats about five billion litres of wastewater daily, which is equivalent to around 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
IWK chief executive officer Narendran Maniam highlighted that although IWK faces the 3Ds – “dirty, difficult and dangerous” works – every day, the company remains committed in ensuring the STPs are well maintained and the provision of sewerage services to its 26 million users connected to these plants are efficient.
"The reality is, everyone knows how important it is to have an efficient sewerage system, but most forget where the wastewater will travel to after using the toilet or washing in the kitchen," he said.
According to Narendran, IWK's sewerage service charges are among the lowest in the world, compared to other developing countries. For the services provided by IWK, the payment for each household that uses the connected system services is between RM2 to RM8 per month - a disparity in comparison to its operating costs which is between RM18 to RM20 per household, per month.
This means that for every cubic metre of wastewater treated by IWK, customers only pay less than RM0.30.
"Every year, IWK's operating costs will continue to increase due to various factors that include the rise of electricity costs and yearly inflation, among others as well as added costs when IWK takes over more STPs.
"In fact, operating costs also increase when work inputs are high, taking into account the daily quality inspections of discharged effluents that must comply with the standards set by the authorities,” explained Narendran.
"If there is any damage to the equipment or entry of illegally disposed waste into IWK’s plants, it will affect the quality of the effluent as a whole, as well as impact the cost of repairs,” he said.
Although the company continues to face rising operating cost challenges, IWK has implemented various initiatives to improve its financial position. This includes cost-saving efforts through innovation and research, as well as conducting non-tariff-based business initiatives. For example, the production of recyclable water from sewerage byproducts, which can be supplied to industry players as an alternative water source.
With the support from the Federal government through the Ministry of Environment and Water, IWK has explored various other business opportunities such as the use of fertilisers for non-food crops and sewerage land leases for telecommunication towers, solar power generation and fibre optic cables.
According to Narendran, the government is channelling subsidies to overcome the cost gap that is borne by IWK. However, there is a limit to how long IWK can rely on government subsidies alone.
“How long will IWK have to bear the imbalance of service charges paid by consumers and actual operating costs? The fact remains that IWK's STPs operate non-stop for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Imagine, if the plants maintained by IWK can no longer operate one day due to this cost gap,” he concluded.