V. CASE STUDY: MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION OF FRESHWATER RESOURCES IN KUALA LUMPUR
C. Protection of water quality and habitats
8. Recent water woes
As was widely reported in the local press in October 1997, the taps of thousands of homes in Kuala Lumpur ran dry. For about a week from 18 October 1997, residents in as many as 25 residential housing estates and several industrial estates were left without running water when the two treatment plants at the Cheras works had to be temporarily shut down. Apparently, as a result of the monsoon rains, diesel fuel that had spilled into a quarry upstream had been washed into the raw water source, i.e., the Sungai Langat.
The resultant outcry by the residents and industrialists was understandable because only about a month prior to that incident, the same water treatment plant had been closed down for about 21 hours because of the presence of diesel fuel in the same water source. Earlier, on 7 October 1997, the pumps had been stopped for 31 hours because of ammonia contamination, while on 13 October they had again been shut down because both diesel fuel and ammonia had been detected at the intake point.
Investigations revealed that numerous industries, a huge municipal dumpsite and settlements (both legal and illegal) were located upstream along tributaries of the Sungai Langat and within the catchment area for the intake point. The company, Kenneison Quarry, admitted to spilling diesel fuel on its premises, which was eventually washed down into the river, and the firm was subsequently prosecuted. But the fact remains that the natural channel between the Sungai Langat dam and the treatment plants, together with its tributaries, are exposed to pollution from human activities.
Looked at from another perspective, it should be noted that in Malaysia the local authorities are entrusted with the power to control land use, including giving approval for applications by industries; thus they are able to sanction the existence of industries within the catchment areas. It is the duty of the local authorities, together with the Department of Environment, to ensure that waste is properly disposed of and that it does not end up in the waterways. The prevention of future occurrences of such pollution has to be considered from a holistic point of view; however, the first step is to upgrade the control, monitoring and enforcement functions of the agencies concerned.