Letters - Tap water resources with care

WORLD Water Day is celebrated every March 22 to mark the importance of water. This year the focus is on waste water. Water after use is discharged as waste water. Population pressure and economic activities have increased pollution of water resources affecting the supply of potable water.

Domestic (household) waste water has two routes. It is either treated as sewerage or discharged directly to rivers. We also have waste water from businesses and industries.

The Department of Environment selectively monitors waste water discharge from commercial and industrial activities based on type of activity as well as potential pollution impact. However, the pollution control mechanism is "obsolete" and more effective pollution control mechanisms are vital.

Water is a matter of national security. Pollution control should include pollution loading as a main criterion to reflect actual population and economic activity density.

Only via this method, can we ensure the effectiveness of pollution control laws and reverse pollution impact to our rivers.

Waste water that is released will flow into rivers and end up in the sea. Due to water's ability to flow and seep through soil, it can carry the pollutants. In the long run, pollutants end up accumulating in plants and animals. These are sources of our food. We need to be a step ahead to prevent incidents like Minamata bay in Japan where mercury poisoning took place.

The Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (Awer) urges the Ministry of Health and Chemistry Department to carry out frequent sampling of raw water, treated water, raw food (vegetables, fruits and aquatic animals) and processed food to ensure they are safe for consumption. Sampling must be random and sites where samples are taken must be kept confidential to prevent any attempt to dilute the samples. The ministry must also publish the test results.

There are ample solutions to reuse waste water in many industrial applications. The federal and state governments must look into formation of industrial complexes where waste water and even waste from one industry is used as a resource for another. For example, sewerage treatment plant's treated effluent can be converted to treated water for non-potable use within commercial and industrial zones.

Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara must enforce water efficiency for commercial and industrial users. Water Services Industry Act 2006 gives it the power to dictate and limit treated water usage for selected activities. However, for commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors that are using raw water directly, there is no rule or law mandating reduction in waste water discharge. Awer has suggested many times to authorities to tackle this grey area.

The waste water from sewerage, agriculture and solid waste can be used to produce biogas. Biogas can be used to generate electricity. Centralised treatment plants are vital to ensure economic of scale and sustainability of this solution. Awer has already put forward some solution on this matter.

Waste to resource is not just a statement. It is a reality. Demand for raw water and treated water must be managed holistically. One effective way we can do that is by reusing and recycling waste water within selected facilities. This solution not only reduces demand, it also increases new technology usage as well as development of new technical and environmental field.

We aspire to be a developed nation by 2020. But, we are still grappling with waste water related issues and not managing it like how developed nations do. What are we waiting for?

Piarapakaran S.
Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia