Water a boiling issue in Selangor


THE recent unscheduled water disruptions in Selangor that left millions of consumers high and dry, has again put the spotlight on the state’s water management system.

The heat is on Pengurusan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Air Selangor) – the state-owned company whose duty it is to process and distribute clean water to its 8.4 million consumers in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

While there are other agencies – including federal and state agencies – involved in the Klang Valley water ecosystem, Air Selangor nevertheless plays a crucial role.

Being the distributor and front-end entity that supplies water to consumers, it comes across as the agency responsible for all and sundry related to water supply in the Klang Valley.

Closer scrutiny, however, reveals that there are other agencies involved – some tied to the Federal Government.

“The ecosystem is more than just Air Selangor. There are at least three other agencies involved in monitoring the health of rivers. Hence, when something goes wrong, the blame game starts, ” says a water consultant.

First, what is Air Selangor?

The state-owned entity emerged as the sole water provider for Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya in Septemeber last year after the end of a protracted water restructuring exercise.

The exercise saw Kumpulan Darul Ehsan Bhd (KDEB) taking over water assets from concessionaires Puncak Niaga Sdn Bhd, Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Syabas), Konsortium ABASS Sdn Bhd and Syarikat Pengeluar Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (Splash).

KDEB was then renamed as Air Selangor. With the reins of the Klang Valley’s water industry in its hands, much hope rested on Air Selangor to manage the water supply in a more efficient manner and curb any water disruption.

Recurring problem

However, Selangor – the economic heart of the country, contributing almost 30% to the GDP – has been continuously paralysed by unscheduled water supply disruptions with sadly, no sustainable solution in the pipeline.

This year itself, there have been three major unscheduled water supply disruptions in the Klang Valley that saw water treatment plants being shut down because of pollution in raw water sources.

Throughout the year, there were many localised unscheduled water cuts due to burst pipes.

“The heat for now in on Air Selangor and its top brass led by (CEO) Suhaimi Kamaralzaman.

“The agency has come under scrutiny from all quarters, ” says the consultant.

According to its website, Air Selangor operates and maintains the entire water services value chain from the reservoirs to the distribution of treated water to consumers.

The agency does not have the authority to punish offenders that pollute the rivers which feed the state’s water supply. That responsibility rest with Federal agencies like the Department of Environment (DoE).

At state level, the Selangor Water Management Board (LUAS) is empowered under the LUAS enactment to licence and control discharge into water supply.

However, its jurisdiction is limited within the provisions contained in that enactment.

“LUAS may also not have enough manpower to monitor disposal activities of factories along the rivers in the state, ” says the consultant. Explaining the workings, he says waste from factories are usually handed over to third-party scheduled waste (SW) disposal companies. Licensing for transporting the SW comes under the DoE.

“Nobody knows where the trucks go after they leave the factory premises with the SW.

“There is no tracking system, ” says the consultant. Vehicles tracking system is a function that falls under the Road Transport Department.

There is currently a location tracking system for public bus services in Malaysia, which can can also tell the current speed, position and direction of any bus.

So far, there is no requirement for SW operators to fit their vehicles with tracker devices. Disposal of SW can be costly if it has to be transported to some distant dedicated site. So, there’s no stopping errant one from dumping the waste into waterways.

Then, there is the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) – a federal body that is the primary authority for the protection of water supply.

“There’s overlapping functions and red tape could be hampering coordination among the various agencies, ” adds one industry player.

Even so, some feel Air Selangor can be more nimble and do more to protect water sources. After all, it is backed by Selangor, a rich state with no deficit.

While the state is well-run, the water debacle shows that there are shortcomings.

“For example, Air Selangor can invest in a pollution removal and an ammonia removal system, ” suggests the industry player, pointing to some that have done so successfully.

In September last year, the Selangor government said it plans to invest RM1bil a year as part of its 30-year plan in supplying treated water in the Klang Valley, with much of it going towards replacing about 150km of pipes. The replacement of aged pipes is another issue needing urgent attention, many feel, and while Selangor is working on it, it could perhaps be hastened.

One of Air Selangor’s key focus areas, according to its 2019 performance report, is to reduce yearly average non-revenue water (NRW), which is essentially water that is pumped or produced, but lost to leaks.

NRW stood at 29.6% as at the end of last year, from 31.6% in 2018.

Last month, Klang MP Charles Santiago, who was formerly SPAN chairman, proposed the creation of a buffer of 300 metres to 400 metres between rivers and factories, where business activities are not permitted.

He also called on the government to look at enacting laws to dish out severe punishment to companies that breach the buffer zone.

“Admittedly, LUAS must also get its act right but this involves coordination with other agencies at both the state and Federal levels.

“However, given other agencies in the ecosystem, a clear mandate and timeline is needed. Otherwise, the finger-pointing game will continue, ” says the consultant.

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