Water Pollution 2020: Some Bad News, Some Good News to Ponder

indah water pollution water disruption

On 10th November 2020, the State of Selangor experienced another water disruption affecting some 1.1 million accounts making it the 9th water disruption this year alone. This time the suspect is from Indah Water but there is another twist to the story. Image source: Facebook

It has been a fact that the state of Selangor has been having too many water disruptions and despite the offenders have been identified and punished, it has not been the end of the trouble for the consumers in this state. The matter has been talked about for far too long but there seems to be no proper closure to this man-made incidents.

Why this water disruption keeps happening?

Have the authorities missed something?

Why these illegal polluters are not worried about disrupting water supply to millions of people?

Quantum of Fines Too Petty?

Update 1 – Malay Mail (23.11.2020) – Two men including a company director are the first to be charged under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) 2012 with committing sabotage on water services in Selangor. The charge was framed under Section 124K of the Penal Code, read together with Section 34 of the same code, which provides for life imprisonment, if convicted.

Update 2 – NST (23.11.2020) – Four Indonesian contract workers were charged at the Sessions Court here today with causing pollution at Sungai Muda on Nov 12. They face an imprisonment period of up to 30 years, or a fine, or both, if found guilty.

Those who have caused disruptions to the raw water supply have been fined considerably in the past but the question is whether it is enough to deter them & others from doing the same offence?

A total of 106 compounds amounting to RM212,000 were issued by the Department of Environment (DOE) from January to September against those who had disposed of chemical waste and contaminants in Selangor’s rivers.

Apart from that, Hee said, the department also issued two notification offences and two directives, with opened one investigation paper also opened by the Selangor Water Management Board (LUAS) for river pollution cases.

(Source)

Let’s work out the maths – 106 compounds amounting to RM212,000 roughly amounts to just RM2,000 per compound. This practically means peanuts to large businesses who raked hundreds of thousands ringgit in profits. No wonder these businesses continue with contamination on almost a regular basis.

However, given the recent updates where the offenders are now facing 30 years to life imprisonment, the next offender may think twice of releasing pollutants into the rivers.

No Drastic Changes to the Law?

If the quantum of fines and criminal offences is not possible due to shortcomings in the law, then why the change of law to address these shortcomings has been slow? Shortcomings in the law will also mean there will be shortcomings in the enforcement of the law. Polluters can easily manipulate the loopholes in the current laws to get away from being caught.

The proposed amendments to the Water Services Industry Act 2006 (Act 655) to provide heavier punishments on environmental criminals are awaiting approval from the Cabinet, the Dewan Rakyat was told today.

Environment and Water Minister Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said the amendments were expected to tabled in Parliament next year.

“Among the proposed amendments are to increase the fine from RM100,000 to RM10 million and jail sentence from one year to 15 years, while the Department of Environment (DOE) is also amending the Environmental Quality Act (AKAS) 1974, seeking for higher penalties.

(Source)

Apparently, the amendments to the Water Services Industry Act 2006 still waiting for the Cabinet and there is no firmed date for the change. A change is only effective, not by talking about it but rather speeding up the actual change. Water disruptions is not a new event so why then amendments to the law are taking too long?

Not Planning to Source for Backup Water?

It is clear that we don’t have a solid alternative to the source of raw water when we have the rivers contaminated. This causes the water supply to be disrupted and consumers left without water for days. Based on the previous disruptions, it now easily takes at least a week for the contamination to get down to an acceptable level and the water supply back to normal.

There has been no proposal to use water resources from Putrajaya Lake as an alternative source of supply in the event of pollution affecting rivers in the state, the Selangor State Assembly was told today.

State Infrastructure, Public Amenities, Agricultural Modernisation and Agro-based Industry Committee chairman Izham Hashim said although Putrajaya Lake was expected to be able to supply water to the Sungai Semenyih Water Treatment Plant (LRA) for up to 17 days, there was no need to use the resource so far.

“The proposal to use water from Putrajaya Lake in the event of any emergency or pollution is outside the jurisdiction of Pengurusan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Air Selangor) and the state government.

(Source)

If one is concerned with jurisdiction and inter-government cooperation at the point of a major water crisis, then does this means the authorities are not having the consumer’s best interest at heart. Why politics and the flimsy excuse of jurisdiction come in place at a time of crisis when millions of consumers are left without any water for days?

No Action Against Illegal Factories?

The soft hands-on illegal factories are a well-known fact – the factory itself already illegal and yet these illegal factories are not demolished or reallocated. Whenever there is a major water disruption and it is due to pollution, the hand of an illegal factory is never far away.

Certainly, we are not talking about 1 or 2 factories but rather thousands of them.

A total of 5,589 illegal factories were found operating throughout Selangor with 869 of them located near rivers, said State Local Government, Public Transport and New Village Development Committee chairman, Ng Sze Han.

He said from 869 unlicensed factories located near rivers, a large portion of them were found downstream or after water treatment plant intake points.

“The state government takes a serious view of unlicensed factories even though there are confusion on the status of such factories.

(Source)

If the State is serious on protecting the source of water for the water treatment plants and has identified factories which are illegal and poses a serious threat to water supply, then the factories are still not been demolished or reallocated? If there is confusion on the status of the factories, then the State should impose the burden of proof on the owners of the factories.

Some Good News Finally?

Well, not all are bad news on the horizon – the recent uproar from the consumers on the frequent water disruptions have woken up some people from their deep slumber. Of course, at the moment all of these “proactive actions” are still on paper but at least there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

The Selangor government said today it will spend RM200 million over four main initiatives over the next 18 months in river pollution mitigation efforts.

Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari said the four initiatives could even reduce stop-work incidences by up to 90 per cent at the SSP1, 2, 3, Rantau Panjang, Semenyih 1 and 2 water treatment plants, which would otherwise affect 1.6 million accounts holders.

(Source)

Bioremediation water disruption

Interestingly one of the initiatives under the above action is the use of Bioremediation which is more environmentally friendly. Image source: Caitlin Rodgers

Bioremediation uses micro-organisms to reduce pollution through the biological degradation of pollutants into non-toxic substances. This can involve either aerobic or anaerobic micro-organisms that often use this breakdown as an energy source.

There are three categories of bioremediation techniques: in situ land treatment for soil and groundwater; biofiltration of the air; and bioreactors, predominantly involved in water treatment.

Wastewater entering a treatment plant is aerated to provide oxygen to bacteria that degrade organic material and pollutants. Microbes consume the organic contaminants and bind the less soluble fractions, which can then be filtered off.

Toxic ammonia is reduced to nitrogen gas and released into the atmosphere.

(Source)

And there is finally some baby steps forward when it comes to punishing the wrongdoers and it is a step closer to the ideal punishment of stringing the wrongdoers from a high pole with a piano string.

The Selangor State Legislative Assembly today passed the Lembaga Urus Air Selangor (LUAS) (Amendment) 2020 Bill to enhance the existing provisions including the legal and enforcement actions.

Among the amendments made to the enactment is the inclusion of the offence of causing odour and taste pollution to water, mandatory jail sentence, raising the fine to a minimum of RM200,000 and up to RM1 million, giving the director or enforcement official the power to make seizures without a warrant, the polluters to pay for the cleaning cost to LUAS and giving it the power to offer a reward to the informants.

(Source)

Higher punishment and some positive mitigation action being taken by the State Government is a positive move but obviously, these actions need to be done with greater urgency.

For what suppose to be developed state with an abundance of rain all year round, disruptions of water has been far too frequent and certainly does not make any sense. Hopefully, it is an act of some stubborn greedy stupid people instead of someone with sinister intentions. After all, it does give the impression that the State is under attack ever since it fell into the Oppositions hands since 2008.

Hopefully, there will be more good news moving forward.

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