At an era of our history, the muddy confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers served mainly as a means of transport for the tin-mining industry. Its waters were so pristine people would throng to the river at Masjid Jamek to perform ablution before prayers.
Over the years, with the steady erosion of the quality of the river, this activity is now only etched in the annals of history. As societies take shape, its rivers degenerate into waterways for the city’s garbage and sewage. The Klang River was forgotten.
Bringing life back to such a river is probably one of the most daunting task for any local authority.
Cities that have faced the challenge head-on and done so successfully, are now reaping the value of having beautiful waterfronts that cut across the city landscape.
Case in point – the Cheong-gye-Cheon River in Seoul. Prior to massive revival efforts in the late 80s, it is said that dead fish used to line its banks. The greed of industrialisation turned a river that people could swim in, into a heavily polluted sewage line.
On its embankments today are recreational paths, public parks and restaurants. Property value along the river skyrocketed.
Another good example is Singapore’s Kallang River. It took 10 years to clean the muddy, polluted garbage dump of a river that it was in the 1970s. Kallang today is a vibrant commercial district with hip establishments and its famed jogging and bicycling tracks.
In short, the revival efforts breathed new life into Seoul and Singapore.
It is possible to do the impossible here for our very own Klang River. The River of Life (RoL) project under the Greater KL NKEA is key to improving Kuala Lumpur’s liveability, transforming the river from its current Class 4 (toxic) to Class 2B, deemed suitable for recreational use.
But this mother-of-all-challenges begs a few key questions:
1. How do we pay for the cleaning?
Reversing damage from 50 years of irresponsible behaviours will cost the government a hefty bill. But having learnt from the experiences of South Korea and Singapore, we are confident of monetising land development projects around the banks.
The government’s 10.7 km stretch from Sentul to Brickfields will be revitalised into a thriving riverfront, enabling us to take in revenue from land sale whilst creating business opportunities, investments and jobs.
Commercial potential is expected to surpass the cost of the project.
2. How do we ensure the river stays clean?
To clean the river there are four priorities:
• As part of their regionalisation efforts Department of Sewerage Services (JPP) will build two regional Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) in Bunus and Jinjang-Kepong in the RoL project areas.
Scattered independent STPs can be a major source of river pollution during heavy rains due to sewage overflow. Of 507 existing STPs, 280 will be shut down in the RoL catchment areas with the remaining diverted to these two plants.
• To reduce pollutants being channelled into the river, we have built four waste water treatment plants at wet markets within the RoL area apart from having installed 478 gross pollutant traps.
• Eight river water treatment plants have been completed to ensure 2B standard in our river
• Education is probably the most important element in maintaining the cleanliness of our river.
JPS workers found refrigerators, mattresses and carcasses in the Klang River. Maintaining clean waterways is not the responsibility of the government alone. All of us must be accountable. We cannot willy nilly litter or be careless with our garbage.
3. How do we celebrate and enjoy the river?
The world-class river beautification initiative by DBKL first kick-started in the Masjid Jamek vicinity, refreshing the neighbourhoods of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Leboh Pasar Besar, Dayabumi Complex and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
The bigger plan is to uplift and restore heritage sites to attract retailers and tourists. There will also be public parks and cycling tracks. Serious bikers and joggers will applaud the trek from Sentul to Midvalley, a 10.7km scenic workout.
Shops and homes – understandably – now face away from the waterways, literally putting their backs against Klang River. With a clean and charming riverfront, we will see people clamouring for the coveted spot to be on its banks and enjoy its beauty.
I was at the Sungai Sering water treatment plant to review progress. There I saw the river water being diverted into the plant for treatment before its release into the outlet as clean water. As I looked out to where the treated water met the natural bend of the river, I saw a young man draw a net full of tilapia.
When we start to see fishes thrive in their natural habitat, this is the sign we are on the right track. We are only at the cusp of seeing real change take place in our river, but as an angler myself, it’s a thrill to see fish scooped up right in the middle of a river in the city.
Perhaps the day will not be too far off when I can take a lunch break to enjoy the ebb and flow of nature, sit by the stoop of Masjid Jamek and cast a line into the Klang River.