Taking care of rivers means a policy shift

With the continuous news coming out of Johor on how their rivers are being polluted due to the dense industrial zones, as well as Selangor’s water treatment plants being closed down due to a diesel spill, river pollution is on the rise.

The things that the government needs to fix are:

  1. to tighten the regulations and policies around rivers,
  2. to ensure continued automated remote monitoring, and
  3. to facilitate early warning systems along all rivers.

The first part is probably the easiest – tightening regulations and relocating factories to create a buffer zone from rivers and water sources is not hard, but it is highly unpopular. Factories want to have access for water discharged during production and rivers are the easiest source to do so.

However, should there be enough pressure as what is placed on something as harmless as the Lynas Rare Earth Plant in Gebeng, then we should have enough to push for the same regulatory framework on all factories and worksites.

In fact, should government add on a water quality monitoring regulation on all factory discharge into the rivers, drains and whatever else, with real time data uploaded to their state environment monitoring agencies, it would then allow constant monitoring of industrial areas.

The second part is to ensure river monitoring – while Malaysiakini should truly be congratulated on their special report on rivers in Johor, what doesn’t make sense is having someone who has monitored their rivers for 15 years noticing the detrimental effects of industry and not raising any safeguards or even propose an automated monitoring system for the rivers.

And this problem is also happening in Selangor, where a diesel spill from a sand mining operation by a state owned company seems to be held accountable for polluting three water treatment plants which impacted households in both Kuala Lumpur and Selangor state.

At the same time, Air Selangor had also wanted to shut down water treatment plants in order to deal with “odour pollution” for three days. This raises the need for automated monitoring along the river as well.

Having such remote monitoring schemes along rivers would allow the state government and federal agencies to keep track of water quality, and thus be able to track where toxic and polluting spills happen and who is responsible.

Should this framework be put in place along all rivers, you would have constant monitoring, early warnings and monitored spikes in pollution, and also be able to hold those accountable properly responsible for their actions.

The only problem, of course, is that we seem to be late to implement such systems in the first place. And now, with the problem of river pollution reaching critical mass, it is important that we act urgently.

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