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Junior engineers enjoy memorable water sampling field study in Malaysia

Written by Izni Zahidi, Teyo Qing Yue and Shirley Low (pictured from left to right)

It was a worst case scenario for Klang Valley that lasted for weeks. People were horrified at first, then they became angry. Many parts of Klang Valley suffered water disruption and water rationing last year due to a prolonged dry season and reduced water level in Sungai Selangor (Selangor River). Desperate times called for new ways.

Well, in this case, creative measures.

To overcome the shortage of river water, pumps were installed to transfer water from former tin mining ponds in Kuala Selangor to top up the levels in Sungai Selangor. To ensure public health, CH2M was appointed by the Malaysian government to conduct an initial drinking water safety and risk assessment. CH2M’s main tasks were to oversee the water sampling and testing work by our sub-contractor, Alam Sekitar Malaysia Sdn. Bhd. (ASMA) and independently assess and interpret laboratory analytical results.

Malaysia Water Samping

The water treatment plants were a breeze to do, as accessibility for water sample collection was easy. The treatment plant officers were also kind enough to show us around their plant. We learned a lot about water treatment processes and we gained a newfound respect for the people who work around the clock making sure the drinking water is abundant and always safe for consumption. The old tin mining ponds, however, were another story and memorable to say the least.

There is nothing more exciting for young engineers than to do field visits, especially for those who are hungry for new experiences and adventures. All the team members were given intensive trainings to ensure the quality of work and most importantly, maintaining safety at all times. It was quite an experience to be involved in field sampling with team members from ASMA and we had a few exciting moments. It is worth mentioning that one of the challenges throughout the one-month sampling period was the weather. Trust us, you would agree that sunny days are the perfect times for sampling, but there is also the risk of getting heatstroke from the bountiful sunlight and tropical heat and humidity! Therefore, we always had gallons of cold drinking water in the four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles and took shelter when we could.

There was a good reason why we were required to travel in 4WD. The ponds were far apart and the ride was so bumpy that it was near impossible for 2WD cars to survive or get out. We hit the 4WD ceiling a lot of times. With hindsight, we should have probably worn our safety helmets in the 4WD! Having 4WD at our disposal did not mean we were invincible. A few times, especially when it rained the previous day and caused the roads to be muddy, the wheels got stuck and the contractors had to lift them up or guide the driver. One time, the only temporary bridge leading us to one of the sampling points was destroyed by high flows from the previous night’s storm and we had to take another access which was not recommended in the first place because the sands were too soft. The contractors had to test the depth of the mud with a stick to know for sure if it was safe for us to access it. The ponds were quite remote that if you were stuck anywhere, help would take a long time, so it paid to be a little paranoid.

It turned out that getting heatstroke and stuck in the mud were not our biggest worries. We were informed by the locals that crocodiles inhabited the water bodies and they had just seen one recently. They reassured us that the mighty creatures had never harmed people there, but judging from one of the pond names – Sungai Darah or Blood River – we were not too sure. There also was a funny pond name, Kambing Susu or Milking Goat. Ironically we did not see any goats there. Could that have anything to do with the crocodiles? Nonetheless, we took extra precautions by not standing close to the banks and were always on the lookout. But crocodiles were not the only dangers lurking. We once saw a dead snake at the site which was apparently the poisonous black and yellow banded krait. We also got to see in action a water monitor, which is the world’s second-heaviest lizard only after the dangerous Komodo dragon, hunting and devouring a huge fish. To think that their family members could be nearby gave us the creeps, though we had to finish our job safely and effectively.

Milking Goat Pond

Even though it was hard work, the field sampling experience was indeed an amazing one, filled with laughter when team members shared their stories and experiences while travelling from one sampling location to another. During breaks, we took a moment to enjoy the beautiful countryside view while eating ice cream bought from a local stall. We got to know the locals so well that one of them even invited us to his daughter’s wedding.

At the end of the day, the idea of turning old mining ponds into safe drinking water helped out the Klang Valley people and we were honoured to be part this project. Adopting unconventional supplies should not be overlooked, but rather studied and optimised. Using water appropriately and emphasising water conservation can help avoid water shortages in the future.

The authors would like to thank John Poon/ANZ, Water Quality Technologist and Regional Technology Manager for CH2M's Water Business Group, for his guidance and technical competency. We would also like to thank Mohamad Khedzair/SZB, the Client Director (Malaysia), for the opportunity to be part of this interesting sole-source assignment.

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