Selangor and how we can maintain water security
By Hafidz Baharom
Now that the water woes have been somewhat corrected in the Greater Klang Valley, there is a need to review what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and how we can avoid it from happening again.
On Thursday Sep 3, water company Air Selangor announced that four water treatment plants along the Selangor River had to be shut down due to pollution which was causing a foul odour. On Friday, Air Selangor said that the cleanup works would take at least four days.
The shutdown, according to the company, impacted 1,292 areas in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.
On the same day, authorities in Selangor managed to trace the source of the pollution back to a heavy maintenance plant named Yip Chee Seng and Sons Sdn Bhd (YCSS). YCSS apparently is a repeat offender when it comes to dumping waste into Sungai Gong.
Sungai Gong is one of the tributaries into Sungai Sembah, which then subsequently feeds into the Selangor River 17km downstream.
According to Selangor’s Environment, Green Technology, Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) and Consumer Affairs exco Hee Loy Sian, the company had been compounded RM60,000 in March on the first day of the Movement Control Order.
Due to this case, 4 family members have been arrested to further investigations into what happened.
How did Selangor deal with the problem
The way the Selangor Water Management Board (Luas) dealt with the pollutants was to pump out water from a pond in Bestari Jaya and the Sungai Tinggi dam in an effort to flush the pollutants further downstream.
Earlier in 2019, a similar case of river pollution in Sungai Semenyih led to Luas dumping activated carbon to clear out the pollution.
In both situations, the pollution level was the same – 3 TONs.
And in both situations, it seems that the Selangor state does have SOPs in place on how to deal with the pollution, even if it is slow or impacting millions of people in the Klang Valley. At the same time, there are a few things we can ask the state government to consider.
How can we make it better?
To deal with the water issue, we need three things – surveillance, a backup plan, and a future plan to stop pollution from getting into the river altogether.
1. Can there be a separate “reserve inlet” to allow water in through another channel into the water treatment plant?
Having such a pipe would allow the plants to continue working with reserve water from other sources rather than directly from Sungai Selangor.
Since we already have a pond in Bestari Jaya was well as a dam in Sg Tinggi, having a reserve inlet pipe into the water treatment plants would allow the water supply to be continuous while the pollutants in the river move further downstream.
2. Can a river patrol or remote monitoring system be implemented on the Selangor River?
Having either a river patrol boat monitoring water conditions daily, or an automated remote monitoring system that is able to monitor the level of pollutants in the water, would both help in providing an early warning for a switch of the water fed into the treatment plants from the reserves.
Could this be implemented for the plants in Selangor?
3. Can we stop all factories and all from having any effluent and outlet pipes into the river?
Another thing that the Selangor government should look at is to implement a state wide programme of barring all factories from having outlets into the river altogether.
Instead, the state government should have a long term plant to have a separate effluent processing plan for waste from factories, including pipes, a separate industrial waste treatment plant system, which will feed the processed water into a reservoir which is then kept in reserve in case the current water treatment plants need it, to be then processed as potable water.
In other words, no factories in Selangor will be allowed to channel any waste into any of the rivers in Selangor. No household waste gets pumped into the river. No waste of any kind gets pumped into the rivers.
The rivers are closed off from the waste management system altogether.
4. Can we set up a state wide High Definition CCTV network along the rivers and where pollution is found to be focused?
Setting up such a network would be beneficial in the long run and not just to monitor the rivers.
If such a network is established, it can be linked and leased out to other services, including linked to a road traffic system which can then be leased out to the JPJ and Police to implement their AES system.
Having such a system can also be leased out to others such as Prasarana to monitor the public transport network. At the same time, it could also be leased out to local councils in the state to monitor errant parking and issue out summons, the same way JPJ and the police would do.
Legislation and penalties
Another side to look at is legislation.
Selangor should look at a few steps when it comes to river management. Firstly, is to create a buffer zone along rivers of 50 meters. No construction, no factories, no industrial centres, on residential centres.
Instead, making a closed system where all wastewater from factories and residential zones are not pumped into the river but instead put into reserve ponds would benefit long term stability in Selangor’s water supply.
With such a closed system, the Selangor state government can then maintain the service through a waste water handling charge on factories and residents, outside of Indah Water or in fact rivalling Indah Water.
Secondly, Selangor should implement and enforce the laws of polluting the river.
For companies that are found guilty, it should also bear the cost of cleaning up the pollution as decided by Luas and Air Selangor, and also bear a penalty from the state of Selangor in order to cater for the free water and bill deductions during downtime of the waste treatment plants.
This would also allow the the maintenance of the closed waste water management system, fund the maintenance for the river monitoring system, and the river patrol boats and monitoring team.
For individuals, perhaps a penalty of a fine and community service in cleaning the rivers and lakes would be applicable, should they be caught red handed.
At the same time, having a blacklist of all companies, individuals and shareholders of companies involved for two to three years, would benefit the state through transparency and also allow the state to have a public database for new companies to be granted licenses to operate in Selangor.
What would Selangor get out of it?
Well, for starters, having to establish a river patrol and implement the remote sensors to monitor the Selangor River quality would do one thing – it would create jobs and contracts to boost the state economy.
Secondly, having such a high tech network would also allow real time monitoring of the environmental KPIs of the river network and have proper measures of just where we should be heading when it comes to keeping the rivers clean.
Third, by establishing a state wide High Definition CCTV network which can also operate at night, would be a boon to be leased out to the likes of authorities such as JPJ, PDRM, local councils and even the public transport companies.
Revenue from the lease can be used for maintenance of the network, expansion of the network, and even securing more income to further upgrades such as infra red cameras to monitor emissions from industrial and commercial buildings, for if and when the state wants to implement emissions limits.
Similarly, the legislation of fines, compounds and civil suits against companies and individuals involved would benefit the state in the long run towards weeding out corruption be it in the corporate side or the civil service.
In the end, Selangor being a leading state in the federation has the resources to push for better and be an example to Putrajaya on how to push for environmental and enforcement agendas through technology and up-to-date legislation.
Doing so would also forward a political agenda of leading by example in a state compared to a federal level governing body. But more importantly, it would put Selangor on an international level when it comes to law enforcement, monitoring and using smart technologies for environmental benefits.
And that should be the goal to remove the “third world mentality” label when it comes to Malaysians.