The Sunday Leader

Thousands Of Lives At Risk Kelani River Contamination

By Hafsa Sabry

Kelani River or Ambatale water pumping Station

The Kelani River Basin (KRB) is home to over 25% of the country’s population. It is the primary drinking water source for millions of people in the Western, Sabaragamuwa and Central Provinces. Large number of industries, businesses and Local Authorities depend on the resources and services of the KRB.

It has been contaminated with detrimental chemicals which are unhealthy for human consumption.  In the recent past the Kelani River was contaminated with 4-methylimidazole, a chemical that causes cancer. Considerable amount of waste from the squatter settlements and other domestic uses are also dumped in to the Kelani River.

Many of the underserved houses of the area discharge their sewage and other sludge into the canals and river either directly or indirectly. Kiththampahuwa Ela (Heen Ela) is the main canal in Kotikawatta, Mulleriyawa area connected tothe Kelani River. It carries a considerable pollution load by way of sewage, industrial and domestic waste water and solid materials from land based activities.

The villages along the Kelani River bank discharge their toilet waste directly into the river where they also dump their garbage. Waste water pipe lines and disposals of garbage were clearly seen along the river bank near Kelaniya, Hanwella and Peheliyagoda areas.

It is still a question whether these houses in the area have a Certificate of Conformity (COC) for their buildings. A certificate issued by the local authority confirming that the construction has been completed in conformity with the regulations in place and in accordance with the approved Building Plan and the Building Permit.

Meanwhile, the buildings should be provided with an Assessment Notice which indicates the quarterly assessment rates payable to the local authority. Assessments rates are subject to revision periodically and charged for providing public amenities such as garbage disposal, maintenance of roads, drains and drainage, parks, reading rooms etc.

The unauthorised houses of the area has no proper pipe lines to dispose their sludge into drainage system or to dump the garbagetherefore, it is significant to note how these houses in the area were built and the COC including theAssessment Notice were given. The responsibility lies in the hands of the Local Authorities of the area.

Meanwhile, carcasses of animals were also thrown to the river while causing the river stench and change its natural colour to black which indicates the diversity of environment in the country is gradually fading away.

It is very disturbing to note that the toilet waste of the areas along the Kelani River bank are being directly disposed to the Kelani River water which is a main source of drinking water for Colombo and surrounding areas, therefore the relevant authorities must address the issue with immediate effect.

However, police have filed cases against the house owners in the area for dumping their toilet waste directly into the Kelani River to stop them from harming the natural water that is treated and supplied to the country for domestic usage and consumption.

The Sunday Leader questioned the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB), as to clarify whether the sewage and sludge mixed water of the Kelani River which distributes water to the Colombo and suburbs is purified and supplied to the public.

Responding to the question the Chairman of NWSDB K.A. Ansar said that the water board do not intake water from the downstream areas of the Kelani River but only from the upstream areas from Biyagama and Amabatale.

He also claimed that the raw water taken from the upstream of the Kelani River is being checked on a weekly basis whereas the treated water is checked every day before distribution, adding that the water in downstream areas directly goes to the sea hence it does not affect the water supply.

“If we find even a slight difference in the raw water or the treated water we immediately purify it while placing measures to reduce the frequency”, said Mr. Ansar.

He went on to say that water which is being supplied is portable andharmless to use since the NWSDB checks the treated water samples every day.

He stressed the point that almost all the water contamination issues are being inspected by the relevant authorities while measures are in place to purify the groundwater and the surface water in the nation. He also added that strong mechanisms to arrest such incidents in future will be strongly imposed.

He said that this issue should be addressed by the local government authorities in the area since the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) does not directly link into this matter of drainage dumping.



Environmentalist Jagath Gunawardane says it is praiseworthy that the police have taken action against the unauthorised houses in the area adding that, even though the police is not empowered to take any legal action against it they have at least brought the issue to the concern of the relevant authorities.

It is the first and foremost responsibility of the Government bodies and the local authorities in the area to monitor the buildings and ensure that they are provided with a proper drainage system to dump the toilet sewage and sludge therefore, the authorities must address the issue immediately.

Environmentalists say that the Kelani River is polluted mainly due to the release of waste water from the industries, hotels, service stations and agricultural lands located along the river and associated canals.

Ravindra Kariyawasam, an environmentalist and a researcher of the Centre for Environmental and Nature Studies (CENS), says that the water samples taken from the Kalupalama and Sedawatte areas where the pipe-borne water is distributed by the Ambatale plant had Arsenic, Cadmium and Mercury at a high level adding that the pH value of water was low.

The people of Kitulgala, Maskeliya and Keselgamuwa areas are at risk since they eat fish from the river and it is clear that the water samples from the Hanwella and  Kaduwela areas are also being contaminated with chemicals.

The Director of Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) Sajeewa Chamikara said that it is an issue which should be addressed by the urban council authorities in the area.

Consequently, the recent incident of the Kelani River water contamination has incurred a lot of expenses to the government which was said to be spent out of the public funds. It is significant that the American based Coca Cola Beverages of Sri Lanka (CCBSL) has not reimbursed the expenses incurred by the NWSDB or CEA to date claimed Chamikara

According to the Report submitted by Chamikara, It has cost 30 million for the NWSDB to purify the chemical contaminated water while it cost around 130 million to distribute water to the areas during the water cut.

Meanwhile it costs around 1.6 million for the CEA to examine the water contaminated samples from the Kelani River while more than 600,000 people consumed the contaminated water for more than 10 days since August 17.

1 Comment for “Thousands Of Lives At Risk Kelani River Contamination”

  1. This crime has been going on for years. Factory affluence, household, service stations, road pollution washed during rains, and a host of other pollutants have found their way into the once clean and clear rivers of this country. The officials responsible have cunningly manipulated and fictitiously created reports for various bribes and have got away with it. Look at the life styles of the many government officials. Their salaries and perks cannot pay for all this. Politics is also one of the main contributors and have encouraged all this. Seminars after showy seminars are organised as a means of distraction from the truth from the public and most a waste of money and time.

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