From source to tap

Vol­un­teers learn why stop­ping water pol­lu­tion is so im­por­tant.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By DARIA MATHEW star2@thes­

Fol­low along as Water Heroes em­bark on a jour­ney and dis­cover ‘How water is part of the en­vi­ron­ment and how piv­otal it is to not take it for granted’.

WHEN we look at our rivers today, what do we see? Usu­ally, it’s all types of plas­tic float­ing about. In today’s world, this oh-so-con­ve­nient ma­te­rial is in­creas­ingly found in prod­ucts that we use in ev­ery as­pect of our lives.

Un­for­tu­nately, when we dis­pose of plas­tic prod­ucts in over­crowded land­fills, they take an ex­ceed­ingly long amount of time to de­grade, as the nat­u­ral el­e­ments fail to break them down to be dis­solved into the sur­round­ing soil.

How long? Ap­prox­i­mately 400 years. This means that the plas­tic thrown away today will only dis­in­te­grate in 2418, which is equiv­a­lent to 16 hu­man gen­er­a­tions.

De­spite over two decades of fresh­wa­ter con­ser­va­tion ac­tivism that in­cluded many anti-plas­tic and anti-pol­lu­tion cam­paigns, plas­tic waste is still chok­ing our rivers and poi­son­ing our wildlife.

This is why WWF-Malaysia or­gan­ised Asia’s first Jour­ney of Water (JoW) in April.

The JoW is a WWF (World Wide Fund for Na­ture) event that was first or­gan­ised in South Africa in 2013 to high­light the ar­du­ous jour­ney that a sin­gle drop of water takes as it makes its way to taps. Since then it has been held in South Africa in 2015 and 2017. The JoW was then or­gan­ised for the first time in Zam­bia in 2017 and Brazil in March 2018.

In the fol­low­ing month, JoW made its way to Asia, with Malaysia as its first Asian host, from April 21 to 23. The event was hosted in the Klang Val­ley and made pos­si­ble by the con­tri­bu­tions of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and the co­op­er­a­tion of more than 10 agen­cies. Thirty vol­un­teers des­ig­nated “Water Heroes” (in­clud­ing this writer and 12 RBC em­ployee vol­un­teers) then em­barked on an eye-open­ing jour­ney to dis­cover where our water ac­tu­ally comes from.

The three-day jour­ney saw us trav­el­ling on foot and via ve­hi­cles to points in the Klang and Se­lan­gor river basins that rep­re­sented the var­i­ous stages of water col­lec­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion.

Up­stream we go

Our JoW be­gan up­stream of Sun­gai Se­lan­gor at the Sun­gai Chiling Fish Sanc­tu­ary in Kuala Kubu Baru. Through­out the day, we had brief­ings and guided tours given by of­fi­cers from the Depart­ment of Fish­eries, the Se­lan­gor State Forestry Depart­ment, the Depart­ment of Orang Asli De­vel­op­ment and the Hulu Se­lan­gor Dis­trict Of­fice.

Dur­ing this leg of the jour­ney, we learnt about the river clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem based on the ben­e­fi­cial uses of the Na­tional Water Qual­ity Stan­dards for Malaysia and the Water Qual­ity In­dex. We were told that Sun­gai Chiling and nearby Sun­gai Per­tak are Class I rivers, which means that the water is very clean and able to sup­port the pres­ence of very sen­si­tive aquatic species and that the con­ser­va­tion of the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment is one of its ben­e­fi­cial uses.

Mid­stream mar­vels

The sec­ond day of JoW saw us trav­el­ling mid­stream to the Sun­gai Se­lan­gor Dam in Kuala Kubu Baru which pro­vides 60% of the Klang Val­ley’s water sup­ply. This was fol­lowed by a tour of the Sun­gai Se­lan­gor Phase II Water Treat­ment Plant in Bes­tari Jaya.

Of­fi­cers from Luas (Lem­baga Urus Air Se­lan­gor), Splash (Syarikat Pen­geluar Air Sun­gai Se­lan­gor Hold­ings Sdn Bhd), and Air

Se­lan­gor showed us the nu­mer­ous be­hind-the-scenes ef­forts to store water and treat it for con­sump­tion.

The Water Heroes mar­velled at this priv­i­leged tour. Vol­un­teer Iman Corinne Adri­enne, an ac­tress and pro­ducer, said: “Go­ing on the JoW was fas­ci­nat­ing. It took me to the source, to where our daily con­sumed water comes from. It re­minded me how water is part of the en­vi­ron­ment and how piv­otal it is to not take it for granted. I felt like I had a re-ed­u­ca­tion.”

We then went on down­stream to Kam­pung Tan­jong Siam Baru where we met mem­bers of Ke­lab In­spi­rasi Kawa – “kawa” is Ja­panese for “river”, and these young peo­ple have banded to­gether to look after Sun­gai Se­lan­gor. The club’s water ex­pert, Af­fan Nasarud­din, showed us how the com­mu­nity main­tains the clean­li­ness of the river by, among other things, col­lect­ing waste reg­u­larly and analysing how much of each type of waste is col­lected by weight and what the main com­po­nents of river pol­lu­tion are – and yes, plas­tic is the num­ber one pol­lu­tant!

After the pre­sen­ta­tion, we got our hands dirty and planted man­grove tree saplings on the river­bank.

Why is it im­por­tant to plant man­grove trees? The an­swer lies in our next stop, where we ar­rived in small, mo­tor­less boats to ob­serve fire­flies in their nat­u­ral habi­tat.

Fire­flies are an “in­di­ca­tor species”: they are com­monly found in healthy man­grove ecosys­tems. Man­grove plants are a food source for snails such as Cy­clotropis car­i­nata, which in turn are the main food source for fire­flies in the lar­val stage. Hence, with­out healthy man­grove ecosys­tems, these organisms would not sur­vive.

“My daugh­ter So­raya and I re­ally en­joyed the coun­cil’s pre­sen­ta­tion and the boat ride. I think chil­dren in Malaysia should join out­door ac­tiv­i­ties such as the JoW to en­joy ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ences amidst ex­perts and fel­low vol­un­teers,” said Aishah Sin­clair, a Mix FM DJ and the spokesper­son of Yayasan Anak Warisan Alam, an NGO that in­volves chil­dren and teens in en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

Down­stream and dreams of a bet­ter fu­ture

The fi­nal day of JoW kicked off with a visit to the River of Life Pub­lic Outreach Pro­gramme (ROLPOP) Com­mu­nity Gar­den in Ta­man Kera­mat AU2, Am­pang.

Here, the com­mu­nity main­tained a pub­lic gar­den with­out the use of pes­ti­cides. They kindly let us har­vest veg­eta­bles, fruits and herbs, and taught us a few gar­den­ing tips and tricks. They also pre­pared a meal for us util­is­ing veg­eta­bles grown right there in the gar­den.

The jour­ney con­tin­ued with a tour of the Ko­lam Biru (Blue Pond) at Masjid Jamek in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. As part of the on­go­ing ini­tia­tive to clean and beau­tify the in­fa­mous Klang River, the river­bank is il­lu­mi­nated by blue lights at night, from which the project got its name.

Our fi­nal check­point was the Pan­tai II Sewage Treat­ment Plant in Pan­tai Dalam, KL. Here we learnt the var­i­ous steps in­volved in pro­cess­ing waste­water from In­dah Water Kon­sor­tium of­fi­cers. Our jour­ney ended with a sim­ple clos­ing cer­e­mony, fol­lowed by din­ner. Water Hero and song­bird Wani Kayrie re­galed us with live ren­di­tions of her pop­u­lar hit Aku Suka

Kamu and Zainal Abidin’s Hi­jau. Fresh­wa­ter ecol­o­gist Dr Ta­jang Jinggut, who had been on the jour­ney with us, said that it had been a great op­por­tu­nity to get to know water agen­cies, water ex­perts, and Water Heroes. “I can’t wait to see what’s in store for JoW 2019,” the part­ner­ship de­vel­op­ment man­ager of the Trop­i­cal Re­search Con­ser­va­tion and Re­search Cen­tre added.

Sathyasee­lan Nadaraja, an RBC Water Hero, chimed in. “It’s im­per­a­tive that we not only cre­ate so­lu­tions to im­prove our wa­ter­ways, but also fo­cus on the wa­ter­sheds, as this is where our pre­cious water comes from.”

In­deed. We tend to look at man­made in­fra­struc­ture in­stead of find­ing so­lu­tions in green in­fra­struc­ture such as water catch­ments, but we for­get that man­made so­lu­tions are not free from lim­i­ta­tions.

For ex­am­ple, a water treat­ment plant is built with spec­i­fi­ca­tions tai­lored to the max­i­mum rate of pol­lu­tion and known pol­lu­tants at the time of con­struc­tion. How­ever, the mo­ment there is an in­crease of pol­lu­tion or new pol­lu­tants be­yond the plant’s range of lim­its, the plant has to be shut down tem­po­rar­ily.

When this hap­pens, water sup­ply is dis­rupted and con­sumers face a water short­age, caus­ing us to be­come overnight water con­ser­va­tion­ists. How­ever, when the water sup­ply re­sumes, we for­get the hard­ship and be­gin us­ing water as if it is an un­lim­ited re­source again.

So how do we stop this cy­cle of be­hav­iour?

Change be­gins with us

Here is the an­swer: we need to stop pol­lut­ing our water re­sources. It is ac­tu­ally not that dif­fi­cult to re­duce and re­cy­cle plas­tic, and dis­pose of it re­spon­si­bly. In fact, we could live a plas­tic-free life.

Grow­ing up in Sabah, I re­mem­ber see­ing moth­ers go­ing mar­ket­ing with rat­tan bas­kets in­stead of com­ing home with hands full of plas­tic bags. Fish­mon­gers wrapped up fish in news­pa­pers, while food sell­ers sold nasi lemak wrapped in banana leaves.

Our home­made nasi cam­pur (mixed rice) called linopot was even packed in leaves from the Bornean na­tive tarap tree, and this is now a novelty usu­ally served to tourists. If we could use all these meth­ods then, then why not use them again?

It might be a new Malaysia after the re­cent gen­eral elec­tion but we should not just sit back and wait for the govern­ment to make change hap­pen.

Change must start from within us and the time for ac­tion is now. Let us be proac­tive and work to­gether to pro­tect our rivers by beat­ing plas­tic pol­lu­tion.

Datin Daria Mathew is the WWF Malaysia Fresh­wa­ter Lead for Klang Val­ley and Setiu Wet­lands, Terengganu, and has been in­volved in fresh­wa­ter con­ser­va­tion for 27 years. She was one of the six re­cip­i­ents (across World Wide Fund for Na­ture of­fices world­wide) of the WWF In­ter­na­tional Award in recog­ni­tion of Ex­cep­tional Com­mit­ment and Out­stand­ing Ser­vice in 2011.


Vol­un­teers be­ing briefed on water qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing at the first check­point in the Klang Val­ley on their Jour­ney of Water.

On the way to the wa­ter­fall at Sg Chiling, Se­lan­gor. — VIN­CENT GAN/WWF-Malaysia


Macroin­ver­te­brate lar­vae found at Sg Chiling Fish Sanc­tu­ary, an in­di­ca­tion of clean water.


Vol­un­teers try­ing their hands at man­grove plant­ing.


The Water Heroes’ last check­point, the Sewage Treat­ment Plant in KL.


Water Hero Wani with some freshly plucked ground­nuts.

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