Authorities Turn Blind Eye To Fouling Of Kelani River


Industries discharge waste into the Kelani Ganga directly but authorities continue to turn a blind eye to the menace, scientists point out in a study released, on Saturday.

The average daily point-source discharge is estimated to be over 414,600 cm3, creating a biological oxygen demand in excess of 11,600 kg day. The study is titled, ‘Challenges in Biodiversity Conservation in a Highly Modified Tropical River Basin In Sri Lanka.’ The researcher who conducted the study say that although the focal environmental regulator of Sri Lanka, the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) identified these pollution sources decades ago, neither legal nor remedial actions have been taken to date.

Throughout lower and mid-reaches of the Kelani Ganga, unregulated waste disposal from industrial and thermal effluvia, and stormwater, have been serious issues, particularly in Colombo metropolis since the 1980s. Some four major municipalities within the Kelani basin discharge untreated or partially-treated sewage and domestic wastewater into the river leading to excessive accumulation of organic waste.

Industrial discharges include thermal effluvia, oils, petroleum impurities, heavy metals, and synthetic organic compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyls. Some of these contaminants are carcinogens, methylimidazole or endocrine disrupters (Butyltin). Chlorinated organic compounds have bioaccumulated in the tissues of fish and invertebrate inhabiting the lower reaches of the Kelani Ganga; these can induce chronic immunodeficiency and histological malformations Sewage and other organic compounds from municipalities, slums, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, water and sewage treatment plants, breweries, leather tanneries, plywood factories, rubber and latex factories, beverage and food processing plants. Heavy metals and other inorganic compounds, petroleum refineries, metal processing and manufacturing plants, battery manufacturing. Detergents from hotels, households, breweries Fabric dye Export processing zones, textile and garment factories Synthetic organic compounds pollute the river.Medical and pharmaceutical waste, open waste disposal sites, hospitals and medical centers, solid waste from households, businesses and commercial enterprises, construction sites, garbage disposal sites are also some of the pollutants. The study team comprised Thilina Surasinghe of the Department of Biological Sciences, Bridgewater State University, Dana Mohler-Faria Science & Mathematics Center, Ravindra Kariyawasam of the Center for Environment & Nature Studies, Hiranya Sudasinghe of the Evolutionary Ecology & Systematics Lab, Department of Molecular Biology & Biotechnology, University of Peradeniya, and Suranjan Karunarathna of the Nature Explorations & Education Team.

Due to rapid industrialization as well as commercialization, the Kelani Ganga is faced with most pressing water -quality and other environmental issues in Sri Lanka, including loss of biodiversity. Research Scientist Suranjan Karunarathna says serious ecological collapse and public health complications are inevitable unless science-based resource management strategies and aquatic biodiversity conservation actions are taken.

The environmental status and rich biodiversity associated with Kelani River basin provide a unique opportunity for development of sustainable water resource conservation and management in Sri Lanka. Conservation potential and biodiversity richness of Kelani River basin are comparable to many other tropical riverscapes. Kelani Ganga is the fourth longest river in Sri Lanka. It originates from the central hills and flows through a diverse array of landscapes, including some of the most urbanized regions and intensive land uses. The river suffers a multitude of environmental issues: illegal water diversions and extractions, impoundment for hydroelectricity generation, and pollution, mostly from agrochemicals, urban runoff, industrial discharges, and domestic waste.

Moreover, the loss of riparian forest cover, sand-mining, and unplanned development in floodplains have accentuated the environmental damage. In this study, the team of scientists have reviewed the status of biodiversity, threats encountered, conservation challenges, and provided guidance for science-based conservation planning. The Kelani River basin is high in biodiversity and endemism, which includes 60 freshwater fish species of which 30 are endemic. Urbanization related threats are more severe in the middle and lower reaches while agriculture and impoundments peril the river in upper reaches. Documentation of these threats dates back to 1980, but, Sri Lankan governments have failed to take substantial actions for sustainable management of Kelani River basin, despite the presence of nearly 50 legislations pertaining to water and land management, the team points out.