Malaysian Authorities Using Drones To Help Monitor Their Rivers For Illegal Dumping of Contaminants As Well As Water Quality Testing

A major concern over water quality has arisen in Malaysia over the last few years. The rapid urbanization of the southeastern Asian country has led to an increase in water contamination. Sewage dumping from domestic, industrial, livestock, construction, and mining industries have forced water treatment facilities to shut down due to spikes in pollution. In just the last two months, water treatment plants had to suspend services twice because of contaminations detected in rivers that feed into the plants. More than 300,000 customers from the districts of Kuala Langat, Hulu Langat, Petaling, and Sepang had to resort to bottled water for everything from drinking to cleaning.

For Malaysia, 98% of the country’s water supply comes from rivers and streams, 10 of which are highly contaminated. In an effort to curb the continuation of these water treatment plants being closed down, the Malaysian government has appointed funds for the use of drones to monitor Malaysian rivers. A sum of RM2million, more than $480,000, has been allocated for the purchase of the new drones, their software, and the training of pilots. The specific drones being purchased for use by the offices of the Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS) and the LUAS Quick Squad are four DJI Matrice 300 industrial drones.

The DJI Matrice 300 is a next-level industrial drone that was released in 2020. Measuring 31″ long, 26″ wide, and 16″ high, the drone weighs just over 13lbs. The four rotors can be folded for easy storage. With a maximum cruising speed of 51mph, the Matrice 300 can remain airborne for just under an hour. Even though the battery lasts longer than a standard drone battery, the Matrice 300 is configured to make battery swaps quick and easy. With an added payload capacity of around 6lbs, the drone can be outfitted with a variety of customizable accessories such as cameras, sensors, and sample collection kits.  While DJI has become famous for making high quality affordable drones, the Matrice 300 costs around $13,000, though still considered a low price for this category of drones.

On Monday, October 19, 2020, State Environment, Tourism and Green Technology, Orang Asli and Non-Islamic Affairs Committee chairman Hee Loy Sian paid a visit to the Sungai Gong Flood Mitigation Pond for testing. After testing a water sample, chairman Sian was pleased that the pollution level was lower than expected. He then proceeded to outline the Selangor Water Management Authority’s plans for maintaining and lowering pollution levels. He said the drones would be patrolling the Klang River Basin, Selangor River, and Sungai Langat for illegal activities like dumping. The drones will also be used to collect regular water samples along different points of the rivers to determine where pollution levels are the highest.

One of the key features that determined the purchase of the DJI Matrice 300 is that they have high definition night vision cameras as well. Sian is well aware that the majority of illegal dumping in rivers happen at night under the cover of darkness. For this reason, the Selangor Water Management Authority has been granted permission to operate the drones at any time, including nighttime missions. Sian hopes that the presence of the drones will deter individuals from using the rivers as dumpsites. For those brazen and careless enough to continue polluting in the rivers, the drones will be on the ready to catch any offenders.

As part of the press conference Sian held, he also announced an increase in punishments to be imposed on those who abuse the Malaysian rivers. “Now the fine imposed is RM100,000 or imprisonment, we want the existing fine to be increased to RM200,000 to a maximum of RM1 million and also jail of not more than a year on offenders,” chairman Sain said. “Besides that, we will also reward RM20,000 to whistleblowers regarding river pollution activities and the identities of the whistleblowers will be kept secret.” In addition to using drones to prevent river pollution, the Selangor Water Management Authority is also actively implementing water cleaning techniques.

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