THE words “water cut” are dreaded by most Klang Valley folk and can cause panic.
That was what happened last month when Sungai Selangor Phase 2 Water Treatment Plant underwent upgrading.
Despite high rainfall and multiple rivers, supply reserve at water reservoirs, which stores treated water, is only 5%.
The low water reserve does not pose a problem when there is no disruption in supply, but when a water treatment plant has to be shut down for whatever reason, resumption of supply could stretch over a few days.
Bukit Gasing assemblyman Rajiv Rishyakaran said if the treated water capacity in neighbourhood water reservoirs could be increased with up to 24 hours’ supply, the public would not be as badly affected by scheduled water cuts.
He, however, said it would not be easy to increase capacity due to the high cost involved.
“The scheduled water cut in April happened not because the officers in charge were not doing their job, but because we do not have enough treated water in reserve during maintenance works.
“The repair works might be for only 12 hours, but delay in the water supply reaching the water reservoirs could be way longer, resulting in a longer time for water to reach our taps.
“One option is to have a higher capacity of treated water reserve, of at least 24 or even 48 hours,” he said.
Rajiv cited the Bukit Gasing constituency which has about 100,000 residents. On average, Malaysians use about 200l of water each day.
“When we factor in factories and shops, about 50 million litres of water are needed in the Bukit Gasing constituency each day.
“As such, we would need at least 50 million litres of treated water to last over the scheduled maintenance work of just a few hours,” he said.
He added that Putrajaya had more capacity with fewer cases of water shortage because it was a newer development. It has a large treated-water reservoir with over 24 hours of reserve.
Petaling Jaya, Subang Jaya and most parts of the country do not have such large reserves.
National Water Services Commission (SPAN) chairman Charles Santiago acknowledged that the water reserve in Selangor was not high.
“Selangor is not in a comfortable position,” he said.
Increasing water tariff
Rajiv said better facilities would require more funding and the public must decide if they were willing to pay for it.
“Most residents would not feel the pinch if they were to pay even an extra 20% for water in Selangor. The poorest 10% would continue to receive help.
“At the moment, Selangor’s 20cu m of free water is worth RM11.
“If most households were to start paying this amount, it would not affect their monthly budget,” said Rajiv.
Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) chief operating officer Saravanan Thambirajah said the association supported increasing the water tariff.
This would enable the old pipes and other outdated equipment to be upgraded, he said.
“Companies involved in the whole process of supplying treated water in this country are not making money. They are operating at a loss and cannot cope with operational costs.
“We support a water tariff increase for the general public but the B40 group should still get exemption,” said Saravanan.
Santiago said households that could afford it, should pay for water consumption.
“We need to give support to those who are vulnerable.
“But for the rest, if they use one drop of water more than 20cu m, they should be made to pay the full bill inclusive of the first 20cu m.
“Free water will still be available but people will appreciate and conserve water better by paying,” he said.
Better water connections
Rajiv said another way to improve water resilience was through the alternative piping method.
In older townships, water pipes are linked from one neighbourhood to another.
“Hence, when there is a pipe burst, all connected neighbourhoods will experience water cut.
“We could instead have alternative or multiple pipes connecting each neighbourhood directly to the water reservoir.
“However, it will cost about RM1mil to instal 1km of pipes,” said Rajiv.
He pointed out that public-listed utility provider Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) was able to upgrade its facilities to improve services because it was profitable.
“If we want a resilient water system, we must be willing to invest in it. It may not be all that painful to pay an extra RM11 a month, but it will be more distressing when there is no water,” he reasoned.
He said there should also be greater transparency on how money was spent by bodies such as Pengurusan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd.
“Their accounts must be available online for public scrutiny, especially by the Public Accounts Committee so that there is no wastage of expenditure,” he added.
Saravanan agreed that more pipelines were needed for greater connection.
“This is so that if we have a problem at the Semenyih dam, at least the one in Kuala Selangor can be tapped,” he said.
Tackling river pollution
Santiago said a bigger issue was curbing river pollution.
He said this was the main reason water treatment plants were shut down for cleaning.
Recently, the Air Ganda water treatment plant in Perak had to be closed due to suspected arsenic contamination.
“There was exposure of ammonia in Melaka and Simpang Renggam, Johor.
“People are treating rivers as dumping ground and companies are also polluting waterways.
“This pollution is having a negative impact on aquatic life such as fish and prawns.
“Now we find heavy metals in treated drinking water. We need a comprehensive river-saving mechanism,” said Santiago.
He said river pollution would impact the public negatively if not addressed.
“State governments must pay attention to this because raw water comes under their purview.
“The relevant agencies must analyse samples of river water so we know the true situation and draw up appropriate policies accordingly.
“They need to increase the frequency of such random tests, especially in areas with serious pollution,” added Santiago.
He said water wastage could be identified faster with the help of locals, such as was the practice in Bangladesh.
“As soon as the local community notices a leak, they will inform the authorities. “Because of this, they are able to reduce non-revenue water by 10%,” he noted
In Kedah, SPAN is planning to appoint friends of the river to address pollution.
“There are technologies which are available but some may be too costly,” noted Santiago.
He also urged companies to embrace technology such as rainwater harvesting to ensure water was utilised better.