Malaysia: Water supply disruption long and tedious due to Selangor state’s low water reserve margin

RAZAK AHMAD and WANI MUTHIAH The Star 28 Dec 16;

PETALING JAYA: Selangor’s big water problems stem from the fact that it has a very low water reserve margin.

The water reserve margin is the difference between the production capacity of water treatment plants and the usage.

And every time water supply is disrupted, consumers have to wait for a long time for supply to resume.

Selangor is not alone in facing such problems. Other states with low water reserve margin include Kedah, Sabah and Perlis.

Selangor and Kedah, however, are the most critical as they are currently producing treated water at levels beyond the design capacity of their treatment plants just to meet demand.

The reserve margin in these two states is below zero, with Selangor at -1.5% and Kedah at -0.5%. Perlis has a reserve margin of 5.6% and Sabah is at 5.8%.

Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia president S. Piarapakaran said the situation in the four states was worrying, adding that the margin should ideally be above 20%. He said plans to increase the margin were needed when the level drops below 10%.

“When the reserve margin falls to 5% and below, it enters the critical zone,” he added.

Piarapakaran said the margin can be raised by upgrading or building more treatment plants.

It can also be boosted by reducing non revenue water (NRW), which is treated water that is produced but is “lost” before reaching consumers due to pipe leaks or water theft.

Piarapakaran said Selangor’s low reserve margin, which has been dropping over the years, was one reason why it takes a long time for supply to fully recover after a treatment plant shutdown.

Water supply recovery will also take longer when high capacity treatment plants are shut down either due to pollution or urgent maintenance.

Selangor’s highest capacity water treatment facilities are the Sungai Selangor Phase 1, 2 and 3 plants which produce 70% of treated water for the Klang Valley.

Others include Langat and Semenyih treatment plants.

Recently, a 16-hour shutdown of the Bukit Badong substation for urgent maintenance work caused water supply disruption to 3.9 million residents and it took several days to resume normal supply.

In October, treatment plants near Sungai Semenyih had to be shut down twice within two weeks, because of odour pollution, affecting over 330,000 households.

This was followed by dry taps in 420,000 households in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling and Hulu Langat after the Langat and Sungai Cheras Batu 11 water treatment plants abruptly halted operations following odour pollution in Sungai Semantan, Pahang.

Disruption in raw water supply can also lead to water cuts.

In Johor, lower rainfall in August last year caused lower water levels in rivers such as Sungai Johor, leading to a month-long scheduled water distribution exercise in some areas in Johor Baru and Kota Tinggi.

Selangor state executive councillor in charge of public amenities Zaidy Abdul Talib said Selangor’s reserve margin was at about 4% and was not in the negative as alleged.

Syabas corporate communications head Amin Lin Abdullah concurred that Selangor’s water margin was currently at about 4%.

“Reserve margins often fluctuate as when there is very high demand for water at a particular time, the reserve would drop,” he said.

On whether Selangor was producing treated water beyond the capacity of its existing treatment plants, he said almost all treatment plants were currently running beyond capacity.

Amin said that was why the state was building two more water treatment plants.

“We are building Semenyih 2 and Labohan Dagang water treatment plants to raise water production to cater to the rising demand,” he said.

Amin said the state government’s target was to achieve a water reserve margin of 15% in the long-term.

Faulty pipes main reason for NRW, says SPAN
ROYCE TAN The Star 28 Dec 16;

PETALING JAYA: One of the main reasons behind the low water reserve margins is Malaysia’s non-revenue water (NRW). And that is mainly the result of leakage from faulty pipes.

The country has an average NRW of 35.5%, which means for every one litre of treated water produced, 0.355 litre is lost.

Leakage accounts for 70% of the country’s average NRW.

Replacing and laying new pipes is by no means simple and some water operators do not even have the financial means to do so.

This then would trickle down to water tariffs, where state governments would have to make hard and sometimes unpopular decisions, said National Water Services Commission (SPAN) chairman Datuk Liang Teck Meng.

“The longer you drag the issue, the worse it will become. Water operators need money to lay new pipes.

“If the operators are unable to make money or are financially strapped, they can opt to migrate to the Water Asset Management Company (PAAB).

“Operators can transfer their liabilities to PAAB over a period of time, for example 45 years, with an interest of around 3% to 4%, and they will have access to funds to lay new pipes to control water leakage and improve the water reserve level,” Liang told The Star in an interview yesterday.

PAAB is an entity under the Finance Ministry and is part of the Federal Government’s efforts to restructure the water services industry to achieve better efficiency and quality.

Liang said that when water operators were faced with lack of revenue, they would not have enough money to build more plants, which was also vital in raising the water reserve margin.

“That’s why we always encourage states to migrate their services to the PAAB.

“If the company itself is already in bad shape, do you think financial institutions and banks will offer you loans?

“The funds from the PAAB are guaranteed by the Government. The funds can be used to lay new pipes and build new plants which will help ensure that the water reserves go up,” he added.

If the low level of water reserves are left uncontrolled, Liang said more water disruptions might occur during the dry seasons or when there are water pollution problems.

He said when there is a margin of 20% to 30%, a water treatment plant can be closed only for several hours if there was upgrading or repair work to be done.

“Once the work is completed, the water from the reserves can be channelled to the users and the residents immediately.

“There will be no need to wait for the water to be treated first.”

States with the highest NRW are Perlis at 56.3%, Pahang at 52.8%, Kelantan at 49% and Kedah at 46.7%. Selangor has an NRW of 32%.

“If you look at Kedah, it means that almost half of the water they produce is gone.

“States with high NRW have to settle this problem and also review their tariffs to bring these companies back on track.

“As far as Selangor is concerned, until the Langat 2 is completed by 2019, there is no way we can increase the state’s water reserve margin to 20%.

“We also worry about next year as a report from Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) showed Selangor may face a deficit because the water they treat is insufficient to meet the demand,” he said.

Liang said consumers should use water wisely.

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