Wastewater treatment issues must be taken seriously — Prem Kumar Nair

OCTOBER 13 — The importance of freshwater supply and safely-treated wastewater return must be exaggerated and over emphasised in Malaysia especially in urban areas.

Despite being blessed with abundance of rainfall, water must be managed efficiently to ensure its sustainability and also to cater to demands for the generations to come.

No matter how hard we try, we are still a long way from the most efficient, economic and reliable way to ensure our cities are properly equipped and ready for the challenge.

As a civilisation, we have achieved isolated instances of superb efficiency in water treatment and reuse. Clean water is an essential resource for people and their environments throughout the world.

Those who provide effective solutions for wastewater treatment play a pivotal role in returning clean, safe water back to its source.

Indah Water Konsortium (IWK), the nation’s largest sewerage treatment operator, currently manages South East Asia’s largest sewerage treatment plant at its Pantai 2 facility in Kuala Lumpur and a huge expenditure of tax payers’ money was invested in this eco-friendly facility. Operational efficiency is always of utmost importance in treatment facilities and this has driven innovation in the sector for quite some time and all these involves huge sums of capital, not to mention massive maintenance costs.

Recently, great advances have been made in the development of efficient technologies but challenges still remain. There are various challenges being faced by wastewater treatment plants and its operators in Malaysia.

Regulatory matters, enforcement, education, awareness and the lack of civic mindedness among Malaysians are some of the issues that must be addressed collectively by all parties especially by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL)and IWK.

Having served my residents’ association in Bangsar Baru for more than a decade, I am privileged to have met numerous service providers and engaged in various activities and community related awareness programmes over the years.

When it involves environmental friendly programmes, I found that Alam Flora’s waste separation at source initiative that was enforced for landed residential households in Kuala Lumpur in 2015 was a demonstration of the company’s foresight to educate people on how to separate waste and at the same time provide insights on the importance of recycling.

Working closely in tandem with other residents’ associations in the vicinity of Bangsar, Alam Flora commenced a pilot project which kick started this separation at source programme and it has proven to bear results especially in getting people to understand the importance behind protecting the earth and efficient waste management. This initiative is now in schools and most importantly, the message is being sent at the grass root levels.

Sewerage treatment and cleaning dirty water is no exception. Sewage treatment is the process of removing contaminants from wastewater, primarily from household sewage. It includes physical, chemical, and biological processes to remove these contaminants and produce environmentally safer treated wastewater.

A by-product of sewage treatment is usually a semi-solid waste or slurry, called sewage sludge that has to undergo further treatment before being suitable for disposal or land application.

For most cities, the sewer system will also carry a proportion of industrial effluent to the sewage treatment plant which has usually received pre-treatment at the factories themselves to reduce the pollutant load.

Sewage water can travel towards treatment plants via piping and in a flow aided by gravity and pumps. The first part of filtration of sewage typically includes a bar screen to filter solids and large objects which are then collected in dumpsters and disposed of in landfills or recycled further. Fat and grease is also removed before the primary treatment of sewage.

To ensure that waste water can be managed effectively, awareness and education must be given a priority to get people to be better informed on how to look after the sewerage pipes.

For residential areas, perhaps working closely with RA’s, schools, various non-governmental organisations or even voluntary clubs would help in promoting mindfulness as to the importance of looking after the sewage system.

For commercial operations, the lack of enforcement from the relevant authorities and the lackadaisical attitude of restaurant and eatery owners when dumping waste, especially grease into the sewerage system poses a stress and increases the chances of blockages in the system.

Perhaps, prior to the issuance of licences to establishments offering food, operators must fulfil the criteria of having a grease tank installed in their premises. This can significantly reduce the quantity of oil and grease seeping into the sewerage systems.

Proper and regular enforcement by the respective authorities must also be done to ensure that all eateries are hygienic and are following proper procedures in disposing their waste and abiding by the rules.

This can be achieved by having a joint enforcement operation by Suruhanjaya Pengurusan Air Negara (SPAN), DBKL, Alam Flora and IWK from time to time.

In highly regulated developed countries, industrial effluent usually receives at least pre-treatment if not full treatment at the factories themselves to reduce the pollutant load, before discharge to the sewer. This process is called industrial wastewater treatment or pre-treatment.

The same does not apply to many developing countries where industrial effluent is more likely to enter the sewer if it exists, or even the receiving water body, without pre-treatment

It is hoped that higher efficiencies in and effectiveness of the systems would allow less waste and better recycling of the resources. We may see various technologies applied and new trends. Having such high technologies but lacking in providing awareness and educational initiatives will not solve the challenges of efficient waste water management.

As the regulatory authority for water management in Malaysia, perhaps its timely that SPAN seriously address these concerns and work closely with DBKL and IWK for long term solutions.

Many of these concerns are interrelated and would require patience and the strong will to succeed.

Infrastructure updates require enormous funding, which requires consumer value and support.

For the water and wastewater industry, it’s best to consider all of these concerns, instead of just one or two variables, when making decisions and planning for the future.

Having more high technological and state of the art treatment facilities but people still don’t appreciate the system will have disastrous ramifications to the ability of sustaining such investments and this much needed infrastructure.

We should look at measures for long term solutions to ensure facilities such as water treatment plants are given the admiration and respect for its role in providing safe and clean water for people.

Engaging with society, aggressively promoting and addressing the need for proper waste water disposal and the sharing of ideas and concepts is definitely the way forward.

*Prem Kumar Nair is the honorary secretary of the Bangsar Baru Residents’ Association.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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