The naked truth about smelly water

The authorities have attributed the smelly water that many consumers in the Klang Valley received from their taps early last week to the discharge of effluents into Sg Selangor from animal farms, garbage dumps, oxidation ponds and factories sited along the river.

But now the National Resources and Environmental Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid confirmed that the pollution of Sg Selangor was due to the discharge from the leachate pond at Bt. Tajar landfill. (The Star March 5)

Media reports have caused many consumers in the Klang Valley to wonder why so many commercial and industrial activities were allowed to be established in the Sg Selangor river basin not far upstream of water supply intakes.

It must be pointed out that Sg Selangor was identified more than twenty five years ago as a major water resource in Selangor, which has now been fully developed and is contributing more than 60% of potable water supply in the Klang Valley.

The Federal and the Selangor State governments are fully aware that conservation of the Sg Selangor river basin is of utmost importance to ensure adequate provision of quality raw water for treatment. It looks like the authorities have thrown caution to the wind in allowing commercial and industrial developments to take place in the river basin.

There are standards existing in the state of Selangor governing the supply of water to consumers. The most relevant is the "National Guidelines For Drinking Quality" 1983 issued by the Ministry of Health, which amongst other requirements, states that "Drinking water must be clear, colourless and odourless".

Clearly, the smelly tap water in the Klang Valley did not comply with the required quality standards.

But why was the smelly water produced and distributed to the consumers?

All the water treatment plants in Sg Selangor and the whole of the Selangor's water supply distribution system have been privatized. The concessionaires are essentially driven by profit, i.e., the more water they produce and sell, the more profits they will make.

So, smelly or not, the concessionaires would produce and distribute the water to the consumers as long as the water supplied is considered safe for human consumption.

And this is one of the follies of water supply privatization.

Now that the whole naked truth has been expounded, it is evident that the smelly water was not caused by only one party. It was the dereliction of duty by all parties involved in the administration, management and operation of our precious water resources.

An edited version of the above was published in The Star on 09/03/06 2007