MY previous columns on town planning focused on how the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) did not provide for legally-required green spaces when approving development for the city.
Admittedly though, the loss of recreational parks isn’t so big a deal for urbanites since development brings with it the increased potential for economic growth. In fact, to ensure that our present lifestyle can be maintained, we need more consumers to, well, consume.
This kind of thinking, however, ignores the aspect of sustainability. The impact of such thinking can be elucidated by looking at our sewerage system policy, and how the failure to implement it screws up our environment.
A little background
Sewage was once under the local councils’ purview. A clause in the Local Government Act allowed assessment taxes to be used to provide for these services. In 1993, however, the Federal Government decided to remove the clause in order to privatise the entire maintenance and development of sewerage systems under Indah Water Konsortium (IWK). This was made legal by the Sewerage Services Act.
With IWK in charge of the sewerage system, this meant that developers had to get IWK’s approval with regards to the development’s sewerage system plans. This is on top of any other approvals the developer may need from MBPJ and other utility service providers.
(pic courtesy of KW Mak)Policy matters for sewerage systems are found in Guidelines for Developers — Sewerage Policy for New Developments published by the Housing and Local Government Ministry, which IWK must follow.
The first step in the planning approval process for a sewerage system involves cash. The rules require developers to pay a contribution fee to IWK known as the sewerage capital contribution rate. The rate is 1.65% of a development project’s selling price or market value. The contribution is meant to pay for the building of sewerage treatment plants.
So, for a project with 1,000 houses valued at RM120,000 each, the developer would have to pay RM1.98 million.
Next, the facility to be built must take into account the population density of the proposed project since the treatment plant must cope with the sewage that would be generated. Population density for residential properties is calculated at five persons per house. The average person produces 225 litres of sewage per day.
So, for a project with 1,000 houses, the sewerage treatment plant servicing the area must be designed to store and treat 1.125 million litres of sewage a day or 33.75 million litres of sewage a month. Treated sewage must be environmentally safe according to the prescribed guidelines so that it can be discharged back to the environment.
Sewage treatment plants cannot be constructed inside or underneath buildings. A buffer zone must be maintained between these facilities and other buildings. This design limitation means that the facility would have a maximum carrying capacity set at the point of construction with a limited upgrade option as the rules require a buffer zone between the treatment plant and other buildings. This is why it is important to get the population density calculated right at the development planning stage.
Developing in developed areas
The contribution fee mechanism is pretty straightforward if the development is in an entirely new area where there is ample space to design and place both the buildings and the sewerage treatment plant. However, placing a new building in an already developed area is more complicated than just building more pipes or sewerage treatment plants.
For example, houses in old developed areas like SS2 and Section 19 in Petaling Jaya are all connected to imhoff tanks. This is an old system where sewage from surrounding houses are pumped to these tanks and stored.
According to IWK, the imhoff tanks are meant to “provide limited treatment of sewage and are not a suitable long-term solution. The effluent from imhoff tanks can rapidly deteriorate if the tanks are not properly maintained. The effluent from these tanks will not meet the environmental requirements of the Department of Environment.”
Since imhoff tanks cannot discharge environmentally safe effluents, IWK must periodically get a tanker truck to remove the sludge to transport it to treatment plants. The recommended service level for these imhoff tanks is 1,000 households, or roughly a population of 5,000 persons.
Despite the limitation of the existing sewerage system however, several high-density projects were allowed in the area with limited upgrade works done to the surrounding sewerage system. As a result, I have had to deal with irate calls from residents about overflowing sewage, along with threats that the complainants would vote for the Barisan Nasional (BN) if I didn’t fix the problem.
Side rant: the development projects in the area were all approved by the previous BN government, which caused the overflowing sewage problem. Talk about literally having to clean up someone else’s sh*t.
Environmental concerns and sustainability
This river looks a lot cleaner than our
average sungai… (© Alex E Proimos
Overflowing sewage goes into the drains, which are all connected to our rivers. Our rivers are our source of drinking water.
With the imhoff tanks clearly unable to contain all the effluents that are presently being generated, should more development projects be allowed in the area before the tanks are upgraded?
Obviously, the answer to that question would be a simple “no” since the increase in population density would result in more untreated effluents discharged into our rivers, causing environmental pollution.
However, I’ve heard arguments that guidelines aren’t law and are only meant to be followed loosely. Should the public buy that argument and allow the government to get away with this interpretation of what guidelines mean, we can certainly expect to find more sewage in our drains and rivers.
MBPJ councillor KW Mak learned that the flow of sewage is divided into three speeds, namely the average dry weather flow, the average wet weather flow, and peak wet weather flow. The flow speed is fastest during peak wet weather, which means the complaints of overflowing sewage would coincide with rainy weather. He believes that proper development planning would go a long way in preventing a terrible mess for ratepayers and local councillors.
Read previous Ampersand columns
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