GEORGE TOWN: Once declared dead, a highly polluted river in a dense urban zone has been brought back to life.
These days, a family of 10 smooth-coated otters has even taken up residence along the "resurrected" Sungai Pinang here.
The river was categorised in 2006 as one of the seven most polluted rivers in the country, earning a dubious Class Five rank - the highest pollution level under Malaysia's Water Quality Index.
Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow, who was elated with the latest development, posted photographs of the mammals on his Facebook page.
The bevy of four adults and six pups is often spotted romping about as far upriver as the stretch near Jalan Dato Keramat.
Smooth-coated otters are not endangered but are fully protected under Malaysian laws.
"We are excited because this means the fishes are back. The otters are here because there is enough food," Chow told a press conference yesterday.
However, Chow was also cautious about the progress. "It's still early to tell. Water test results are not consistent yet."
Sungai Pinang pollution tests fluctuated between Class Two and Three levels last year, he said. The long term goal is to make it a Class One river.
The clean-up work has not been cheap.
Penang Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) pumped RM150mil (S$53.5 million) in 2009 into various cleanup infrastructure systems, scooping 120 tonnes of rubbish annually.
In the same year, the state also relocated 300 families living along the riverbank, besides shops and two temples.
In May last year, Penang roped in Infinite Acquisitions Sdn Bhd for three years in a RM5.8mil deal to use Infinitesimal Quantum Persistent and Reflection (iQPR) Technology to treat Sungai Pinang.
Chow said that he had to bear the burden of proving that the state government had chosen the right company and technology.
"If it doesn't work, then we are pouring people's money into the river."
"Monthly samples of the water are taken to test for its quality. One sampling will be done by DID while the other will be done by the iQPR team and sent to different labs for testing as a form of check and balance to ensure the result is not fabricated," he said.