Selangor state will introduce tough new laws and surveillance drones to tackle water pollution but experts and environmentalists say these steps do not go far enough to safeguard water sources.
There have been at least eight incidents this year where pollutants were dumped into rivers.
This resulted in unscheduled water cuts to more than 1.1 million consumer accounts in parts of Selangor and the Kuala Lumpur federal territory in the past few months.
The state government has proposed relocating factories sited near rivers that supply water to Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.
While welcoming the move, critics said the wider issue of enforcement and cooperation between agencies needs to be addressed.
"Rivers must come under national security. Police and other enforcement authorities could supervise with the help of CCTV and other technologies," said Selangor lawmaker Charles Santiago, who is also former National Water Services Commission chairman.
Some companies and even industrial waste disposal contractors may dump chemical waste elsewhere, instead of taking it to a hazardous waste management centre.
"The problem is that the third party which collects the waste is not monitored. The trucks should have a monitoring device so that it reaches the recycling centre, and will not deviate to another place.
"This falls under the Road Transport Department, while the Department of Environment is in charge of monitoring chemical and waste disposal," he noted.
There are 15,500 licensed factories near the basins of the Selangor and Semenyih rivers. The factories now have to ensure that they produce zero discharge, or relocate to a special industrial area.
"For the illegal factories near the river banks, we are taking stern enforcement action to close them down," state executive councillor Ng Sze Han told The Straits Times.
Klang Valley v S'pore
About seven million people in densely populated Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya - collectively known as the Klang Valley - share the same water resources.
The Klang Valley consumes 3,243 million litres of water a day in 2017, 6.39 per cent more than in 2014, and a third of the total amount of treated water consumed in the whole of Malaysia. In comparison, Singapore, with 5.7 million residents, consumes about 1,628 million litres a day.
Nadirah H. Rodzi
Selangor will deploy four drones at the end of this month to monitor suspicious activities and take water samples at Sungai Selangor and Sungai Langat.
The state assembly passed a Bill this month to enhance laws against polluters. Amendments include a mandatory jail sentence, and raising the fine to a minimum of RM200,000 (S$65,600) and up to RM1 million.
Environmentalists agree that mandatory jail terms are crucial, but suggested the use of water quality monitoring systems and spending more money on enforcement.
"The measures proposed may contribute to the solution but are only a fraction of measures that are needed," said Global Environment Centre director Faizal Parish.
"Closing down or relocating polluting factories can help, but the focus on factories near river banks is wrong. Even factories far from the river can discharge pollution into drains or tributaries."
He noted that drones may not detect pollutants if they are colourless, and that some factories were recently caught pouring pollutants down toilets in their premises, which would be impossible to detect from outside.
"We need to follow the experience elsewhere where it is mandatory for factories to install a real-time water quality monitoring system at their discharge point that immediately notifies authorities in case of a breach. This is done in China and elsewhere," he said.