Connexion: Turn storms into an alternative tap water source

By Joachim Ng

Perak is facing water droughts in a few areas, Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Saarani Mohamad said recently. 

“In Kerian, the water level at Bukit Merah dam is often at a low level, causing us to do cloud seeding to ensure that the agricultural activities are not affected,” he told the press in Ipoh while disclosing that a factory in Taiping obtained only 15% of its water usage from the Perak Water Board.

The Menteri Besar said Perak could barely manage to supply enough water for its people, as the state would have a population of three million by 2035. One solution is to build a water tunnel from Sungai Perak to Kerian district. 

In Penang, grass patches turned brown from the scorching heat. In Kedah, teenagers could be seen walking on the dry river bed at Yan waterfall. The Drainage and Irrigation Department issued a precautionary warning that the Ahning and Pedu dams were expected to experience a drop in water levels from March. The temperature in January hit 36.60 C. That is quite a high.

Yet on March 7, Klang Valley was hit by a deluge with some main roads under two metres of water and motorists climbing to the rooftops of their vehicles to escape drowning. It was just three months ago in December that the water level in parts of Ipoh hit danger point.

Deluge and drought are two sides of the same climate change coin, and we are seeing nations experiencing one affliction followed by the other in a number of ways: alternate years of deluge and drought, alternate seasons of deluge and drought within a year, or regions of deluge and regions of drought within the same nation.

The preference of all state governments in Malaysia is to rely almost completely on water supply from rivers. It’s a heavy responsibility imposed on the rivers, as 98% of the water we use is drawn from them. 

But everyone should know by now what is happening to our rivers. Gone are the days when boy scouts could swim across any river to get their King Scout badge. In the past, scouts could earn their badge at Sungai Rui in Hulu Perak. Years later, tin mining activities upstream released toxic pollutants into the water and it could no longer be used by households. 

Early last year, the lifting of the Movement Control Order saw polluters resurfacing and Sungai Pinang which runs through George Town once again became a dumping ground for waste from homes, industries, and factories. 

Two years ago, illegal dumping sites the size of football fields were found on the edge of Sungai Muda which is the main source of water for Kedah, and environmental groups said arsenic elements had contaminated the river. Last year, Kedahans expressed worry that their health would be affected because tap water was dirty and silty.

Johor may still be holding the record for the highest number of polluted rivers in Malaysia, with 16 out of the 25 dirtiest rivers located in the state. Rivers that have made news headlines include Sg Kim Kim, Sg Johor, Sgi Gelang Patah, Sg Selangkah, and Sungai Muar.

The biggest impact of river pollution is, of course, felt in the Klang Valley. Among all the rivers in the world emitting plastic waste into the ocean, Sungai Klang last year tied with one river in the Philippines and one in India as the joint second highest contributors, each depositing 1.33% of the global total. Two years ago, residents found drums of chemicals dumped on the Sungai Klang riverbanks.

Most rivers in Klang Valley’s river basins such as the Sg Klang, Sg Selangor, Sg Langat, and Sg Buloh basins have been used as dumping sites for industrial effluents, farm waste, construction debris, and household discards. 

On August 31 last year and then again on September 3, Klang Valley folks endured successive water supply interruptions because of odour pollution detected in the raw water source for the Semenyih water treatment plant. Industrial effluent discharge was pinpointed as the cause. 

The Department of Environment’s statistics showed that in 2019, only 46% of the nation’s 477 monitored rivers were found to be clean, with the other rivers polluted by harmful discharges from legal and illegal factories, workshops, restaurants, mining operations, and runoff from farms, plantations, land-clearing activities, and households. In 2015, the number of clean rivers was higher at 58%.

So, you’re getting 98% of your water from a drain although it’s called a river. It’s the classic “put all your eggs in one basket” and let’s hope we don’t drop the basket.

Mexico City, well aware that eggs can drop, has built a hydraulic infrastructure that is one of the world’s largest. Not only does it comprise scores of dams, wastewater treatment facilities and pumping plants to supply usable water, the system also consists of deep drainage tunnels and retention lakes to prevent flooding. 

Kinta Valley, Penang, Kedah, southern Johor, and Klang Valley should think of constructing smaller-scale hydraulic infrastructures that comprise deep drainage tunnels to channel stormwater into huge underground storage tanks, above-ground water towers, and retention ponds with filters to remove debris so that the water can be pumped to treatment plants for use in dry months.

Underground tanks can be located under school playing fields and public playgrounds. The earth dug up can be used to increase the height of river embankments to prevent overflow during storms. 

As deluges and droughts have become inseparable twins that come visiting in November-March and June-August respectively, we should set a target for rainwater harvesting to supply not less than 20% of our water needs. What’s the cost of diversifying our water sources? Think of the savings instead. The current practice is to let stormwaters flood our homes, factories, roads, cars, and farms. Isn’t that costly?

But since most of our tap water supply will still come from rivers, it’s high time we clean up our act. Just as we protect sensitive installations, rivers must flow within buffer zones stretching to 500 metres wide. Every state must have a river police contingent to mount patrols, assisted by CCTVs on riverbanks and drones flying overhead.

Human activities in the buffer zones should be limited to community gardening, swimming, fishing, recreation, and boat travel. Strictly no factories or motor vehicles allowed. Polluters should not only be fined but must be sentenced to do fulltime pollution cleanup work for 10 days to 100 days. Absence from business operations necessitating in a shutdown is a heavier deterrent than a fine.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ipoh Echo


Show More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button