By TAN CHENG LI firstname.lastname@example.org
EFFLUENT from sewage treatment plants has been singled out as a major river polluter. Just by sheer numbers alone, sewage treatment plants make up 49% (10,025 facilities) of the total number of water pollution sources found in the country.
In comparison, manufacturing industries make up 44.5% (9,069 sources), according to the Environmental Quality Report 2010 by the Department of Environment.
Sewerage Services Department director-general Mohd Akhir Md Jiwa, however, feels that sewage treatment plants (STPs) are getting the rap chiefly because they are visible, can be counted and are documented as pollution sources. The pollutant ammoniacal nitrogen, taken to indicate sewage contamination, can also come from livestock and poultry farms, slaughterhouses, farm and surface runoffs, and discharges from rubbish dumps, but these sources are often overlooked.
To reduce sewage contamination in Sungai Klang, the department is getting RM2.2bil under the River of Live (ROL) project. Right now, the discharges of STPs need only meet Standard B of the Environmental Quality (Sewage and Industrial Effluent) Regulation 1979 as Sungai Klang has no water intake points. But the ROL project requires the effluent discharge to meet the more stringent Standard A. To comply, the department will upgrade some plants, construct new ones, rationalise the small plants, lay some 180km of new sewer lines, and repair and enlarge another 66km of sewers.
Mohd Akhir says sewage can be better handled by having bigger plants. Japan, for instance, has only 100 STPs nationwide. Singapore has four now, but intends to have only one in the near future. Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, on the other hand, have over 3,000 STPs, many of which are small plants.
“IWK takes over some 300 plants from developers each year and running small plants is not economical. This puts a burden on IWK,” says Mohd Akhir.
To improve things, the department will close down 212 small STPs located in Setapak, Taman Melawati, Bunus, Jinjang, Bukit Antarabangsa and Damansara and divert the sewage to bigger, regional plants. The existing regional STP in Pantai will be upgraded, and two new ones will be built in Bunus and Batu, Kepong. Another 16 STPs in Selayang and Bukit Antarabangsa will be upgraded so that discharges will comply with more stringent standards.
Meanwhile, houses in the older residential areas of Kuala Lumpur – places such as Seputih, Ampang Hilir, Bukit Tunku, Jalan Damai and Overseas Union Garden – will be connected to public sewers as their individual septic tanks cannot thoroughly treat the sullage.
The various projects will be completed between 2014 and 2018. The department will also receive RM3.38bil to improve sewage management in areas of Selangor which are outside of the ROL project area. The projects include the RM65mil South Klang regional STP in Klang-Banting that is under construction. The funds will also cover upgrades of several regional STPs in Hulu Langat and Kajang,
Mohd Akhir says the sewage component never received much attention in previous Sungai Klang clean-ups. He concedes, however, that dealing with the sewage problem alone will not elevate the river water quality as many other pollution sources exist.
“Sewage management must be complemented by other measures. The land office and local authorities are still approving land-clearing for development in the upper reaches, creating a muddy river. If you really want to clean up Sungai Klang, you should focus from upstream to the river mouth.”
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia vice-chancellor Datuk Dr Zaini Ujang says any river rehabilitation requires three things: commitment, project integration and a healthy river ecosystem.
“The projects must not just have contractors or developers. They must include the people living in the area and doing business there. The residents must be educated on how the project can benefit them,” says the professor in environmental engineering.
In a huge project such as the ROL, there will be different parcels with differing objectives carried out by different contractors. Dr Zaini says without integration, one parcel can adversely affect another.
The clean-up effort should also safeguard the river ecosystem, so concrete linings of river banks should be avoided.
“The river is meaningless and not real if it lacks biodiversity and does not have a river ecosystem. The water should not just be of a certain quality. There must be a healthy riverbed and river banks so that aquatic life and other flora and fauna can survive.” He also cautions against water treatment that turns the river water into drinking water – this will mean the addition of chlorine, and marine organisms will not survive in it. “In Seoul, they put tap water into the river, and nothing can live there. Water that is too clean is not a river.”