Local government authorities announced that there was a high probability of a new sewerage tax being introduced in the near future as part of the upgrading of the 91-year-old waste water system taking place under the Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded Greater Colombo Wastewater Management Project.

While Assistant Director of the Environmental Pollution Control Division of the Central Environmental Authority, Nelka Shrimathi Perera recently pointed out that the sewage network in the country had only a coverage of 3%, Director Engineering (Drainage and Water Supply) of the Colombo Municipal Council, M.I.M. Salim further added that 70% of the areas within the City of Colombo are under sewerage.

According to Salim, each day approximately 300 million litres of raw untreated sewage is discharged into the Indian Ocean (1.5 kilometres off the shores of Colombo) via the two outfalls in Wellawatte and Mutwal. The monthly electricity bill for the two pumping stations is Rs 6 million.

The ADB loan comes to USD 343 million. Salim noted that similar projects including the establishment of waste treatment plants were being planned for the North and the South with the signing of the ADB loan for the Northern catchment being the impending one.

The plant at Wellawatte is to be completed in two years and the one in Mutwal in approximately four years.

He explained that while high operational and energy costs are involved with the maintenance of the present sewer system, the process was hindered due to frequent breakdowns and exacerbated by the lack of awareness on the part of the people.

He accused the population of flushing sundry including items like polythene and cloth towels which resulted in pipelines severely pressurized from loads and clogging, a process which in turn entailed massive repair costs.

Salim observed that the government currently spent Rs 1 billion a year for the maintenance and operation of the existing sewer system.

Meanwhile, Emeritus Professor at the Department of Geography of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Sri Jayewardenapure, Jinadasa Katupotha raised concerns regarding the chemical treatment of sewage and the subsequent toxic release that he said will have a detrimental impact on the marine environment and thereby the dangers posed to the health of humans.

Speaking about the current ongoing process of relocating sewer lines on to public roads, Salim said that due to flawed city planning, private constructions had taken place over sewer lines while elaborating that new regulations would be put in place to halt such practices.

Further, Chairman of the Road Development Authority, Nihal Sooriyarachchi highlighted that the utilization of micro tunneling or pipe jacking, which involved the digging of two holes, one constituting the jacking pit through which the pipe would be sent to the other and the receiving pit, would minimize damages to the roads resulting from road breakages.