UNSPOILED rivers are few in the Klang Valley and one would hardly think of finding one in Petaling Jaya. But there’s a pristine place in the Bukit Kiara Forest Reserve in Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur where a stream of crystal-clear water flows to become the infamous 12km-long Sungai Penchala which winds through much of Petaling Jaya.
Too bad the scenery doesn’t last, with concrete slabs covering the river base once the river flows through residential areas in Petaling Jaya. The reasoning for concrete base was simple, since rivers are a convenient dumping ground for rubbish and other debris – better to have the waste flowing smoothly than to have rubbish stuck at corners and causing floods during downpours. And the waste isn’t just contributed by residents living near the river.
The township’s early planners had taken the easy way out by connecting all drains in Petaling Jaya to Sungai Penchala. This means that everyone living in PJ contributes to the pollution of the river. Sadly, the most common public response towards the problem is: “People pay taxes, and it is the government’s role to clean up the river.”
Well, members of the Global Environment Centre (GEC) beg to differ.
“Our drinking water comes from our rivers and I am sure people are concerned about that even if they are apathetic about the environment,” said GEC programme co-ordinator Suzana Mokheri.
GEC, a non-government organisation (NGO) working towards the rehabilitation of the environment, started their work with the Kelana Jaya Lake that was overly polluted by sewage. Today, after two years of working with volunteers, nearby residents and the Petaling Jaya Municipal Council (MPPJ), the lakes stink less and efforts continue to clean up the place.
Now, the NGO is looking at cleaning up Sungai Penchala and is actively recruiting residents to become watchdogs for the river.
“There are 108 inlets to Sungai Penchala and for the programme to succeed, we need the involvement of the residents,” said GEC programme officer Dr K. Kalithasan.
The idea behind getting residents to monitor river pollution is to allow them to know what goes into their rivers.
“Watching will lead to more proactive action. When residents see the rubbish, they will take an active interest in keeping the river clean, even to the extent of going upriver to see the cause of the pollution and getting enforcement action to be taken,” said Suzana. The intent is clear, but residents need a lot of convincing and with limited manpower and volunteers, things have been a little slow going.
“We have to go down to the ground to explain the plan because sometimes people are only concerned about how they would benefit from their participation.
“One benefit would be the value of their properties, which would be worth more if the river running in their backyard was
clean,” said Suzana. There are other reasons for going on the ground, since establishing a close working relationship with residents would in turn empower both the GEC and the residents to formally lodge complaints with the Department of Environment (DOE) and MPPJ.
So far, GEC has managed to rope in the residents associations (RAs) and Rukun Tetangga centres (RTs) of Section 14, Section 19, SS2, Taman Jaya, and NGOs such as Yayasan Anak Warisan Alam (YAWA), Friends of Taman Aman and Friends of Bukit Gasing.
YAWA’s partnership with GEC allows both of them to organise field trips for students to Bukit Kiara to study the river water and its immediate surroundings. MPPJ and the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) have also pledged their support for the programme.
The most active thus far is YAWA, which keeps tabs of the river from the Bukit Kiara forest reserve to the Caltex station at the Damansara Highway near the Bukit Kiara Muslim cemetery.
The field trips are enlightening for its participants because there is fish life here , albeit limited. GEC has reportedly sighted snakeheads (ikan haruan) and eels at some stretches as well as some birds such as herons and kingfishers.
YAWA executive trustee Khadijah Abdul Rahman said there was a lot of work to be done even though the river source was in the middle of a gazetted forest reserve.
“People sometimes come here for picnics and indiscriminately dump the styrofoam lunch boxes on the ground,” said Khadijah.
“We have to make people realise that we have a source of freshwater in our backyard.
“But we need more people to take responsibility of the river because it is in danger of being spoiled even here at its source.”
FMM, which represents the factories running along the river, is working closely with GEC and providing data on usage of water and effluents from the factories into the river.
“Our work with them requires the data to be kept confidential and that we not use that data to sue them for the next two years.
“We hope that our efforts will encourage the factories to implement the necessary changes to their operations that will minimise or even remove completely the dumping of waste into the river,” said Dr Kalithasan.
GEC’s work extends into field trips for students into other forest reserve areas like Bukit Gasing, which has a tributary river running to Sungai Pencala, too. Reaching out to the community to care for the river is but the first step in a larger goal of caring for the environment.