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“Second Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal” in the pipeline

The project to improve the water environment of the Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal system is one of the most ambitious environmental endeavors in HCMC since 1975. 

Once the most polluted canal system in this city, Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe, which used to be lined with slums on its bank and whose unmistakably pungent smell was unbearable, has undergone a sweeping change to become a symbol of the efforts to improve environmental pollution in HCMC.

Now that the preparations for the project to clean up and renovate the environment of the Tham Luong Canal – Ben Cat – Nuoc Len Canal system is being completed, it is expected to become another Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal system, reported Tuoi Tre newspaper.

A scene of Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal - SGT Photos: Thanh Hoa

Stretching on a total length of 33 kilometers, the Tham Luong Canal – Ben Cat – Nuoc Len Canal system is the longest of its kind in HCMC. The system runs across seven districts, including Binh Chanh District, District 12, Go Vap District, Tan Binh District, Tan Phu District, Binh Tan District and Binh Thanh District.

In fact, this project is not totally new as the city government once tried to implement it to improve the heavily polluted environment along this canal system. In 2016, the second phase of this project was approved with construction scheduled to begin in 2017. However, in that year, the World Bank, the project’s then money lender, withdrew, and it has been stalled since. 

A project to benefit many

But it has revived. The HCMC People’s Council has recently given the green light to the investment in cleaning up the Tham Luong Canal – Ben Cat – Nuoc Len Canal system. Of the estimated fund for this environmental plan worth VND8.2 trillion, some VND4 trillion will be sourced by the central Government’s budget and the rest from the municipal budget.

Scheduled to be implemented during 2021-2025, according to Tuoi Tre, the improvement of the Tham Luong Canal – Ben Cat – Nuoc Len Canal system is poised to give a facelift to the living conditions of some 2 million inhabitants in the 15,000-hectare environs of the canals. The HCMC People’s Council is quoted by Tuoi Tre as saying that the project is a three-pronged approach which encompasses reduction of flooding, environmental pollution and traffic jams.

In addition, also reported by Tuoi Tre, the construction of roads alongside the two banks of the canals is expected to become the new growth driver for the city’s western region and lessen traffic jams in the inner city.

Along with the dredging of the entire canals, the project is also to renovate existing sewer systems. Particularly, 12 wharves will be built along the canals with which the arterial waterway linking HCMC with the provinces in the Mekong Delta is facilitated to take shape. This waterway will be connected to the gateway of Long An Province as well as other provinces in the southeastern region, such as Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Tay Ninh. 

Water treatment the key problem

Speaking with Tuoi Tre, Dr. Pham Viet Thuan, director of the Institute of Environmental Economics and Resources, argued that the project to improve the Tham Luong Canal – Ben Cat – Nuoc Len Canal system should focus on treatment of wastewater. If properly implemented, it may turn this canal system into a second “Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal system,” which will help address environmental and traffic problems on its course.

However, Dr. Thuan warned that this project may have more difficulties in wastewater treatment than in the Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal system. As Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe has only one direction of water flow, from Tan Binh District to the Saigon River, the treatment is easier. Meanwhile, the Tham Luong Canal – Ben Cat – Nuoc Len Canal system has two different flow regimes.

In case of Tham Luong Canal – Ben Cat – Nuoc Len Canal system, when tide rises, water runs from Binh Thanh and Go Vap districts to District 12. Reversely, the natural flow in the canals is from District 12 to Tan Phu and Binh Tan districts, which poses a knotty problem for wastewater concentration for subsequent treatment.

Moreover, added Dr. Thuan, it is essential to separate wastewater discharged by Tan Binh Industrial Park from this canal project. Treatment of industrial wastewater and wastewater discharged by households requires different methods. If wastewater from Tan Binh Industrial Park is allowed to mix with household wastewater, no water treatment plants can do their jobs, he explained.

Dr. Thuan also insisted on the installation of wastewater treatment plants alongside the canal system. Ideally, he said, some plants should be located in Binh Tan District, where the flow ends, so that wastewater can be concentrated and treated in line with the natural flow.

A section of Tham Luong Canal, which will change tremendously when the project to clean up and renovate the environment of the Tham Luong Canal – Ben Cat – Nuoc Len Canal system is completed

Wastewater treatment plants in the pipeline

Tuoi Tre also mentioned the necessity of the installation of new water treatment plants which are expected to help clean up canals in the city. In accordance with approved schemes, from now to 2025, HCMC will have 12 more wastewater treatment plants to be positioned in the environs of Tau Hu – Ben Nghe – Doi – Te canals, Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal, eastern Saigon, Tan Hoa – Lo Gom Canal and Tham Luong – Ben Cat Canal.

So far, however, HCMC has had only three wastewater treatment plants, including Binh Hung wastewater treatment plant with a capacity of 141,000 cubic meters/day (put into operation in 2008), and Binh Hung Hoa wastewater treatment plant (30,000 cubic meters). The third, Tham Luong – Ben Cat (131,000 cubic meters), which was completed in 2018, is still inoperative because of a lack of connecting pipelines.

The existing wastewater treatment plants are capable of handling only about 13% of the total wastewater released every day in HCMC. The rest is dumped directly to canals, which is why they are so heavily polluted.

The municipal authorities are calling for investment in six wastewater treatment plants. These plants are Tay Saigon (150,000 cubic meters/day), Bac Saigon 1 (170,000 cubic meters), the upgradation of Binh Hung Hoa plant (180,000 cubic meters), Suoi Nhum, Bac Cau Dua and Bac Saigon 2. When all are operational, the plants will be able to treat up to 88% of the total volume of discharged water in HCMC.

Phase one of the HCMC Environmental Sanitation Project, which has just been completed, has helped treat all the volume of wastewater released by some 1.2 million inhabitants along the banks of the Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal system. The wastewater is collected and conducted to the pumping station on Nguyen Huu Canh Street in Binh Thanh District. It is designed to be conducted to the wastewater treatment plant in Thu Duc City. However, to date, that plant exists only on paper as it still waits for the second phase. Wastewater is therefore pumped into the Saigon River instead.

The second phase of the HCMC Environmental Sanitation Project needs estimated costs of US$524 million. Of this, US$450 million is funded by the World Bank and the rest by the municipal budget. The project was started in February 2017 and is scheduled to finish in 2024. When completed, it will be able to treat wastewater discharged by 1.2 million people living along the Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal system to Grade A level.


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