post by Susanne Chi
Addressing Water Shortage And Distribution
By Melati Mohd Ariff
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 (Bernama) -- As the water crisis looms ahead, debates and discussions abound to identify the remedies that would buffer the severity of the impact.
The Malaysian government has been actively exploring this critical issue and the outcome is clearly seen in the Ninth Malaysian Plan (9MP).
According to the 9MP, priority would be given to the development of inter-state and inter-basin water transfers to address water shortage and uneven distribution of water resources in the country.
One major project that has drawn polemics, especially among environmentalists, is the inter-state raw water transfer project from Pahang to Selangor (Pahang-Selangor ISRWT).
This project is scheduled to commence during the 9MP period (2006-2010).
Also being hotly debated is the government's plan to build more dams in the country as part of efforts to alleviate the water shortage problem.
SELANGOR IN DIRE STRAITS
The water supply situation is critical and this has been recognised in particular by the Selangor state government. Water consumption in the state is very high compared to other states based on statistics available in the "Malaysia, Water Industry Guide 2005".
In 2003, metered domestic water consumption in Selangor was recorded at 478,995,217 cubic metres, while metered non-domestic water consumption was at 245,490,214 cubic metres. The total consumption of metered domestic and non-domestic water in Malaysia in 2003 was 1,609,574,693 cubic metres and 843,388,420 cubic metres respectively.
According to figures in the detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report titled "The Proposed Raw Water Transfer Project from Pahang D.M. to Selangor D.E.", the phase III of the Sungai Selangor Scheme is expected to boost supply capacity to 4,350 million litres per day (MLD). However, this amount is only sufficient to fulfil the demand up to the end of 2007.
The said report also considers the population increase in both Selangor and Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur. The population growth rate for both is projected to surpass 4 per cent and the projected figure for 2010 is 8,080,823 people.
As another measure to meet future water requirements in the country, there has been a recommendation to build 47 new dams, besides three new inter-state water projects that include the Pahang-Selangor ISRWT.
The cost of building these dams, the inter-state water projects and other water resource projects is a whopping RM52 billion!
Of the 47 dams recommended, Johor and Pahang will have the biggest share with 12 each, followed by Perak with seven.
THE PAHANG-SELANGOR ISRWT
Under the Pahang-Selangor ISRWT, water from the Pahang River is to be transferred to Selangor via pipelines. A tunnel will cut across the Main Range to accommodate the pipelines. According to initial reports, this project will be fully financed by Japan.
The proposed project involves three drainage basins in Pahang, namely Kelau, Telemong and Bentong.
Most of the affected locations under the proposed project are in Bentong and part of Raub district with the major project components located in Hulu Langat, Selangor, the location of the tunnel outlet.
Two dams are proposed to be built under the project, namely the Kelau Dam on Sungai Kelau and Telemong Dam on Sungai Telemong, about one kilometre south of Karak town, both in Pahang.
According to the EIA report for the proposed project, the proposed tunnel to transfer raw water to Hulu Langat district in Selangor will traverse through estates, steep hills and forested areas of the Main Range. In Hulu Langat, the tunnel outlet and a proposed new water treatment plant will be located near Sungai Air Jernih, about 5km southwest of Hulu Langat town within the Hulu Langat Forest Reserve area.
WORRIES OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
The mammoth project costing in the region of over a billion ringgit, however, has raised grave concern among naturalists and environmentalists. Not only private land including oil palm and rubber plantations will have to be acquired and compensated, a portion of the Lakum Forest Reserve, which is a habitat for wildlife such as the dusky leaf monkeys, rhinoceroses and black hornbills, will be inundated.
The EIA report also recognises some biodiversity impact of the water project whereby species of plants with medicinal value, beneficial to both human beings and wildlife, will be at stake.
"Obviously, any development of that size will impact the environment. We are naturally concerned because the forest and mountain habitats and also the ecosystem are all fragile," lamented Dr Loh Chi Leong, executive director of the Malaysian Nature Society.
He also cautioned on the impact of 'trans-river basin transfer' where he said that there should be a limit. "You can do this to a certain extent but you cannot continue doing this or else it will be a never-ending race.
"Every river is able to provide a certain amount of water and there is a 'threshold' and once it's breached, the health of that river and everything it supports will be affected," he added.
NO FULL CONTROL
Another area of concern is that the locals may not benefit from the Pahang-Selangor ISRWT both in terms of technical expertise and business opportunities.
This was voiced by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia's dean of Chemical and Natural Resource Engineering, Prof Dr Zaini Ujang.
He said based on past experience, projects financed by the Japanese yen would ultimately be "all Japanese".
"At the end of the day, the locals will not benefit as much as we had expected especially in terms of business and technical expertise," he said.
Dr Zaini also spoke on the need for integrated river basin management to effectively manage the country's water resources.
He said based on the current set-up, even the newly established National Water Services Commission (SPAN) and Water Asset Management Company were not in full control of the water resources in the country.
"SPAN for one, is in control only when the water is in the piping system.
"However, how and where it is being extracted, and the management of the catchment areas are not under the control of SPAN but under various agencies including the state governments.
"There is just too much red tape, too many committees. For example, the quality of river water falls under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, quality of drinking water under the Ministry of Health, and flood mitigation and irrigation under the Department of Irrigation and Drainage. In other countries, there is only body. Singapore, for example, only has the Public Utility Board (PUB)," he elaborated.
NEED FOR WATER-SAVING MEASURES
Besides building dams and inter-state water transfers, there are actually other measures that can be implemented at a much lower cost to meet the challenges of a water crisis.
Loh pointed the need to overcome the problem of non-revenue water (NRW) that according to government figures is in the region of 50 per cent of the total volume supplied, for instance.
NRW is defined as the difference between the quantity of water that leaves the treatment plants and the quantity billed to the customers based on their metered consumption.
Factors contributing to NRW include burst pipes and leakages (mainly due to old asbestos cement pipes) and pilfering (illegal connections to squatter colonies and other forms of water theft).
Loh also spoke on the need for water conservation and to promote water-saving devices, which had been discussed but not yet translated into action on a large scale.
"We have experienced a water crisis several times but we tend to forget. There are many ways of conserving water but the simplest way is to start having buildings and houses with water-saving devices. Things like high- efficiency shower taps and dual flush for toilets should become a standard requirement for new housing projects.
"These have been talked about but not implemented. The existing flush system, for example, wastes 3 to 4 litres of clean water. For most of us, it could be almost 30 to 40 per cent of the water used daily. If you we save 50 per cent of that, you will save 20 per cent of our water consumption," he said.
He also opined that all housing areas should have a system to collect storm water, which could be a great help during the rainy season to control flooding besides providing water during droughts.
"We are just wasting the rain water that can be stored.
"To top it all, water has not been given its real economic value so much so people tend to waste it.
"Until we recognise the actual value of water, there is no incentive to save," he lamented.