Source: Macaranga

On World Water Day this 22 March, ecosystem restoration activist Kennedy Michael brings us on a journey of rivers, dams and our role as polluters.

RIVERS. THE watering pipes of mountains and forests and fields and factories. Bringing us fresh and clean water (once upon a time, now maybe not so) from the highest elevations to the lowest lands.

The shift from hunting and gathering to agrarian societies that signalled the start of early civilizations was centred around the freshwater brought by rivers.

And just as it did 6,000 years ago, it remains today for us the main source of our civilization.

(Feature pic: Raw water is carried through main supply pipes from the Klang Gates Dam to the water treatment plants in Wangsa Maju and Bukit Nanas | Pic by Alliance for River Three)

Unfortunately for us, our technological and architectural developments have sidelined rivers (and in the Klang Valley, straightened them to our detriment).

We might think that because we do not see the rivers or we see them as big drains, they are no longer relevant to us.

That, is very uncivilised thinking. And that is why we need calendar reminders like World Water Day which falls on 22nd March every year.

Going to the source
Let’s take a look at the river flowing through the Klang Valley’s backyard and the so-called ‘big drains’.

The Klang River begins at the uppermost reaches of the Titiwangsa Range about 25 km northeast of Kuala Lumpur.

It gets its name from the Mon-Khmer word ‘Klong’ which means warehouse, as Klang was an important maritime town and had many shipping warehouses.

Springs into rivers
Hundreds if not thousands of little wellsprings effuse water out of the ground and these form little pools. Overflowing pools become brooks that converge to become streams and then rivers.

The Klang River basin has 13 tributaries, which are Sungai Batu, Sungai Jinjang, Sungai Gombak, Sungai Ampang, Sungai Keroh, Sungai Kerayong, Sungai Kuyuh, Sungai Penchala, Sungai Damansara, Sungai Rasa, Sungai Kemunsing, Sungai Kayu Ara, and Sungai Bohol.

At the final point along the lower reaches of the Titwangsa Range, 5 of these rivers connect to form Sungai Batang Klang. Sungai Batang Klang flows into the Klang Gates Dam.

The Klang Gates Dam and its massive forested water catchment are critical to the Klang Valley’s water supply. (Sasyaz Kreatif)

With a catchment area of 75.6 sqkm, the Klang Gates Dam was built in 1958 to provide water to the central business district in Kuala Lumpur and nearby areas.

The concrete wall of the dam stands at a height of 37 m and has a crest length of 139 m. Water impounded in the reservoir covers 2.03 sqkm and has a storage capacity of approximately 25.3 mil cubic meters of water.

The dam also serves to manage floods but for awhile, it was also a great recreational spot.

At the bottom of the spillway is a pool which is about 3–5 m deep. It has white sandy bottom with little vegetation but lots of native fresh water fish like kelah and sebarau.

Refreshing dips

Back in the 1960s all the way up to the late 1990s, locals could hike all the way to the spillway and swim at this pool. There were no settlements or roads except for the staff working at the dam.

Visitors would either take Jalan Kolam Air or walk on the two massive pipes emanating from the bottom of the dam that supplied the raw water that is treated at the Bukit Nanas Treatment Plant.

Before the development of Taman Melawati in the early 1970s, the water flowing from the foot of the dam was pristine, and classified as Class 1. Today, some parts are still Class 1.

However it drops to Class 2a or 2b once it passes the IWK oxidation pond about a kilometre away owing to the discharge of treated sewage.

7 dams into 34 plants

The Klang Gates Dam is one of 7 dams and other off-river storages that feed into 34 water treatment plants. These supply 4,991 million litres of water per day to 11 regions in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

This means almost 100% of our treated water is sourced straight from rivers. And this fact bring us to the importance of rivers in our daily life.

Now, we may think that we live in the digital age and water has nothing to do with that. Wrong!

Electronic needs

Up to 14,000 litres of water are used to manufacture just one smartphone. That’s like drinking 12 litres of water every day for three years!

And the waste water from this process goes back into the river or into the ground which eventually ends up in rivers. This waste water can be toxic, often laden with heavy metals.

Do you know of anyone who does not own or use a smartphone or a digital device of some sort or is dependent on it in some direct or indirect way?

This is why we say that everyone is a water polluter and therefore everyone is responsible for keeping our water clean.

Who’s job is it to keep rivers clean?(Alliance for River Three)

Water is not only needed for electronics, it is also necessary for growing food crops, raising livestock, manufacturing our daily use and specialist products and healthcare services.

And so, we must keep our forests integrity intact. Because the only way we can get the raw water at the volume and costs we do now, is through tapping our ecosystem resources such as the water cycle, forests, biodiversity, wetlands, groundwater, lakes and ponds as well as the oceans.

We rely entirely on rain and evaporation to resupply our clean water, which brings us back to rain water catchment and storage at dams.

Know thy impact

Unfortunately, the majority are ignorant or apathetic of this fact and live their lives with total disregard of their negative impacts to our water resources and climate stability.

All life on this planet requires water. Even the firing of synapses in our neural networks that enabled us to observe, tests, gather and codify the knowledge that I am sharing here, required untold quintillions litres of water!

Without water, we would be dead within 7 days. The longest recorded case of a human being going without water is 18 days. And that is the exception.

Embedding awareness

Therefore, it is on you to inform yourself of the Sustainable Development Goals and how you can play your part in embedding these goals in all aspects of your life: personal, professional and even spiritual.

Start reducing your negative impacts on the environment, especially on water and rivers, changing your habits and your choices to be more environmentally friendly.

Start respecting the integrity of forests and ecosystem as well as protecting the habitats of the citizens of these ecosystems, from plants to animals to insects to microbes.

Can’t make it up

We cannot manufacture water and we are totally dependent on nature to produce it for us. We are not apart from nature. We are a part of nature.

Nature does not need us; we are surplus to its requirements. But we need nature.

This is the real meaning of ‘water is life’.

On World Water Day 2023, and every single day that you use water, remember that without water, you would as a species maybe lasts for 18 days max!

We are all polluters

To end, remember that we depend on rivers for almost 100% percent of our water needs. Remember that not one of us is not a polluter, whether we know or admit it.

The care of our rivers is everyone’s responsibility.

Do your part by volunteering with the Alliance of River Three (ART!)Friends of Rivers Selangor (FoRS) and Friends of Klang River Basin (FoKRB) to conserve, protect and rehabilitate our rivers.

Kennedy Michael is an ecosystem restoration activist and founder of Alliance of River Three and Community Action Nexus Berhad, as well as founding member of Gabungan Darurat Iklim Malaysia.

[Edited by SL Wong]

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