JOHOR BAHRU: The Johor state government has urged chicken farms and palm oil refineries situated along the Johor River to maintain their sewerage systems and prevent water pollution.
Those who fail to comply and end up contaminating the waters would face harsh punishments, state executive councillor for international trade, investment and utility Jimmy Puah has warned, according to local media reports.
"Operators must improve and enhance their sewage systems and waste management," he was quoted as saying by Sin Chew Daily following a meeting with some 30 industry players on Tuesday (May 21).
"Consider this the last warning from the state government," he said.
Punishments that can be meted out include fines, jail terms and revoking the businesses' water abstraction licence.
“(Threatening to) cancel their water abstraction license will keep them on their toes,” he told CNA on Wednesday.
Under Section 25(3) of the Environmental Quality Act 1974, those found contaminating rivers will be taken to court and fined up to RM100,000 (US$23,892) or face a jail term up to five years or both.
In total, there are 35 palm oil refineries and chicken farms situated along Johor River, which supplies water to seven of the state’s water treatment plants.
RECENT RIVER POLLUTION CASES
The southern state has been hit by incidents of river contamination, with the latest happening last month when ammonia-contaminated water from a reservoir at a bio-composite centre next to a palm oil refinery in Sedenak flew into Sungai Sayong.
The pollution forced two water treatment plants to shut down and caused disruption in water supply to about 17,000 households in Johor. The refinery's water abstraction license was cancelled as a punishment.
On Apr 4, Singapore's national water agency PUB said its Johor River Waterworks plant halted treatment operations due to the high levels of ammonia in the river. It resumed operations on Apr 6.
Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Singapore is entitled to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of water from the Johor River. Singapore pays 3 sen per thousand gallons of raw water and sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per thousand gallons, a fraction of the cost of treating the water.
Johor is meanwhile entitled to a daily supply of treated water of up to 2 per cent or 5 mgd of the water supplied to Singapore. In practice, however, Singapore has been supplying 16 mgd of treated water to Johor at its request.
READ: PUB's Johor River Waterworks temporarily shut down in 7 pollution incidents since 2017: Masagos
In March, toxic chemicals were dumped in Kim Kim River, causing a wave of poisoning cases in Pasir Gudang and the closure of 111 schools in the area.
In a leaders retreat last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore raised with the Malaysian government its concerns about pollution in the Johor River as well as its long-term yield.
Mr Lee said that if the Johor River suffers an incident like the recent one at Kim Kim River, the effects “will be disastrous for both countries”.
Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament earlier this month that a lack of environmental protection was the "biggest threat" to the sustainability of the Johor River, while encouraging Malaysia to learn from Singapore how it safeguards its water quality.