Sunday, January 06, 2008

Giant cesspools

The Straits Times had a comprehensive report yesterday about the Three Gorges Dam project along the mighty Yangtze River in China -- the biggest dam in the world when completed in less than a year.

Despite the obvious potential of a clean source of energy via the hydroelectric dam, the report noted the tremendous cost associated with the project. One major worry, according to the report, is the long-term accumulation of pollutants in the vast 660km-long dam reservoir. The newspaper said sewage, fertiliser run-off and other domestic waste washed down from populated areas will be locked in instead of being flushed out to the sea.

Someone should do a similar study on major bodies of water in Singapore and Malaysia.

One major project is the Bakun Dam in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. The project will flood an area three times the size of Singapore when it is completed. The project, which will be the biggest hydroelectric dam in Asia ex-China, is still on track despite massive environmental outcry in the last two decades or so.

The most polluted body of water in the region is undoubtedly the distressed Straits of Johor. Flow of water in the narrow strip of water separating the two countries has been blocked for more than eight decades by the land-based causeway that connects southern Malaysia and Singapore.

Massive amount of pollutants continue to be discharged into the straits by drains and rivers at the Malaysian end. A Malaysian newspaper report had earlier said that the straits has high levels of lead, mercury and e-coli bacteria.

Water in the straits has been stagnant as the causeway does not allow water to flow freely. Water in the cesspool will remain stagnant for a long, long time.

This is because the governments of Singapore and Malaysia have not been able to reach an agreement ever since Malaysia mooted an overhead bridge project in 1996 to replace the causeway. That's 12 years ago!

Singapore has always maintained that there is no need to spend extra money as the causeway is still useful. But there is also suspicion that its reluctance is due to fears of opening up the straits to ships. Small ships and barges could theoretically bypass Singapore, which is the major shipping hub in the region, and sail from the South China Sea to the Straits of Malacca via the Straits of Johor.

Such a concern is not entirely valid. There is little time or cost saving from using the Straits of Johor as the new sea lane as the water is shallow and the straits meandering.

But as noted in an earlier posting, there is tremendous benefit from cleaning up the Straits of Johor for people on both sides of the causeway.

39 comments:

Bret said...

I think the concern is not so much the bypassing of Singapore, but the better access to the Port of Johor. Singapore has been trying for a long time to make this more difficult as it could be a major competitor to the Port of Singapore.

Most recent action was putting sheet pilings on the Singapore border in preparation for land reclamation. The impact was to vastly increase the current speed, making it much more difficult for navigation.

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