LOW treated water reserve margin has been behind the water crisis in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya for the past few years. We raised this issue in 2011 but we were accused of providing misleading information and called a number of unsavoury names as well.
Reserve margin is the extra distributable capacity after meeting the current demand. The reserve margin allows the treatment plant to cater to any sudden increase in demand or unforeseen water shortage. It is vital to ensure that there is a sufficient reserve margin during scheduled (maintenance and pipe replacement) and unscheduled (low level of raw water, major pipe burst, raw water pollution and sudden breakdown) disruptions in supply. The reserve margin will reduce the impact of water disruption at the affected areas as well as speed up recovery when the supply is restored.
When the reserve margin is low, recovery after disruption will take a longer time as the system needs to fill up the reservoirs and also meet the existing and backlogged demand as well as non-revenue water (NRW).
A low reserve margin also causes low water pressure in some areas even during normal operation on hotter days.
There are two solutions to solve low reserve margin – build a new water treatment plant and reduce NRW. Using cost benefit analysis, the immediate step would be to build a new water treatment plant. Reduction of NRW is a supporting solution.
Why did we reach the low reserve margin?
The Water Services Industry Act 2006 (WSIA), enforced on Jan 1, 2008 by the National Water Services Commission Malaysia (SPAN), requires state governments in Peninsular Malaysia and the Federal Territories of Putrajaya and Labuan to restructure their water services (water treatment, water supply and sewerage services) operations according to the WSIA model.
Liabilities from the existing operations were transferred to Pengurusan Aset Air Berhad (PAAB), which is regulated by SPAN, and all new infrastructures would be funded via PAAB or other cheaper financing (if applicable). This would make the work of changing old pipes and building new treatment plants easier.
However, the Selangor state government did not agree to restructure until the 2014 water crisis that kept 60% of consumers in the state, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya on a water rationing plan for a few months.
The Langat 2 water treatment plant was scheduled to be completed by 2014 but it is now delayed to 2019. This plant was supposed to produce 1130 million litres per day (MLD) of treated water with a reserve margin of about 20% if it had begun operations in 2014.
From 2014 until today, many new projects and expansion of existing projects have been put on hold. Only selected projects are being approved.
The real increase in water demand for the Klang Valley is being suppressed. On the other hand, the level of NRW in the Klang Valley is still above 30%. When Langat 2 is fully operational by 2019, the effective treated water that can be distributed would be around 790 MLD (after deducting conservative NRW level). We also need to keep in mind that when more water is available, pressure in the pipe network would increase and may cause higher NRW.
The reserve margin when Langat 2 is operational will be 10% to 15%, depending on the NRW situation as well as demand. We are expecting a steep increase in demand after Langat 2 comes into operation as many pending project applications would be approved swiftly. By 2021 or 2022, if NRW is still above 25%, we will reach a low reserve margin situation again.
Therefore, we need to tackle NRW with full force.
Looking at the Sungai Selangor Phase 3 (SSP3) water treatment plant, it has been operating above capacity by 20% since 2016.
Operating above capacity, or overloading, will speed up wear and tear of the infrastructure as well as increase maintenance cost. The supporting infrastructure also needs to be upgraded to ensure there is no system failure.
I remember questioning a senior SPAN official in early 2016 about this. There is no way a scheduled maintenance operation can be postponed if a particular plant is operating above capacity.
Did SPAN, the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry (KeTTHA) and Selangor state government make the necessary engineering audit to see if this overloading is sustainable?
Just recently, it was reported that the manager of the SSP3 plant mentioned lack of funds and expertise to maintain the plant. This is an absurd and irresponsible reasoning given by a concession holder.
To ensure that facts are disclosed accurately, the Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (Awer) is urging SPAN to form an independent enquiry committee to investigate the SSP3 issue. The committee should investigate, among others, whether the overloading approval process followed the required engineering audits; time taken between detection of equipment with problems and taking action; potential breach of concession agreement clauses that can allow the state government to cancel the concession agreement; and overview of other treatment plants that are overloaded in the Klang Valley to prevent a similar incident.
The Selangor state government must swiftly conclude the restructuring process and follow the 30-year business plan through promptly. Further delay will only cause more water disruptions as well as higher tariffs.
Selangor has shown a clear-cut example of the negative repercussions of not restructuring to allow infrastructure development and improvement.
Politicising water services will never bring any good to any entity. Just look at how Negri Sembilan and Melaka have improved their water treatment and supply situation after restructuring.
KeTTHA and SPAN should also play a more proactive role. If the need arises, incompetent officers should be removed to ensure the Federal Government is able to protect water services which are crucial for the people and the economy. Indecision causes water crisis.
Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia
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