Plan now to meet future water needs
AFTER five agonising months of water rationing in many parts of the Klang Valley, the State Government has finally responded positively to the Federal Government's insistence that it come out with an effective measure to overcome the shortage of water in the near future by building a new reservoir (NST, 27 July).

All this while, the Selangor State authorities have taken only a few feeble steps to lessen the suffering of some 1.5 million consumers in the Klang Valley. Meagre measures such as treating water from ponds using portable plants and exploiting groundwater can contribute very little to alleviate their suffering - let alone prevent its recurrence in future.

As already predicted by those in the field of water supply, the completion of the Wangsa Maju water treatment plant is now only producing half of its designed capacity due to shortage of raw water from the Klang Gates Dam (NST, July 18).

The authorities now admit that the plant, constructed at very high cost, will not contribute much to solve the water shortage - not even in the Wangsa Maju area itself. When the rains come later this year, the present water shortage problem may be over. But the worst is yet to come.

The demand for water in Selangor has doubled in the last 10 years, from about 1,200 million litres a sday (mid) in 1987 to about 2,500mld in 1997. At this seven per cent per annum growth, the water demand in year 2002 will exceed 3,500mld.

Operating at optimum capacity, the present output of all water treatment facilities in Selangor is about 2,500mld. To this, the Government has recently announced that 475mld from the Sungai Selangor Phase Two, Stage One would be made available by October and another 475mld from Phase Two, Stage Two by 2000.

This means that from 2000, Selangor will have sufficient water to meet the projected demands up to 2002. But even this is dependent on an appropriate distribution system being put in place in the Klang Valley so that the additional water from Sungai Selangor Phase Two can be efficiently distributed to the affected areas.

Furthermore, the Water Supply Department must ensure that the four major dams in Selangor, that is Sungai Langat, Sungai Semenyih, Klang Gates and Sungai Buloh, are properly operated to ensure the treatment plants have sufficient water to maintain full production, even during the drier months.

This may be good news provided that all that is necessary is carried out. But it may still be just the lull before the storm because it takes six to seven years to complete any major water supply scheme.

There are now only four years to 2002 and there is still no sign of any urgency to get started on a post-2002 supply enhancement plan. Instead, the Selangor State authorities seem to be misdirecting their efforts in trying to develop groundwater sources.

There is little groundwater in Peninsular Malaysia - certainly not in the quantities to meet the huge demands of today. This can be seen on the hydrogeological maps published by the Geological Survey Department of Malaysia.

The best that can be expected is 1.2mld from a well in alluvium "generally along coastal areas" and "brackish in certain areas". Further inland, in limestone, shale, to igneous rocks, the yield drops to as little as 0.24 mid. The availability of groundwater in Selangor is therefore insignificant in the context of a demand of 3,500mld - and doubling every 10 years!

The Government should prioritise the development of economically feasible water supply schemes to provide sufficient water on an ongoing, long-term basis. But here again, the options for the Klang Valley are limited because these resources are now no longer viable as the valleys which have been identified as suitable for dam storage have been earmarked for housing development.

A case in point is Sungai Selangor Phase Three. This last phase of 950mld needs the construction of two dams. Is the proposed reservoir recently announced by the Government supposed to be one of the dams of this Sungai Selangor Phase Three?

If it has taken the Government so long to make this announcement, is it because the valleys for water storage have been taken up for housing?

The Hobson's choice may therefore be the inherently complex and expensive inter-basin water transfer from Selangor's water-rich neighbour, Pahang. But even if this scheme is started tomorrow, it is hardly possible for the inter-basin transfer through a tunnel in the Main Range to be onstream when Selangor needs the water by 2002.

The picture is bleak indeed, although the situation can be offset if the State Government simultaneously undertakes projects to improve the distribution system in the Klang Valley, particularly the reduction of unaccounted-for water losses due to pipe leakage and water pilferage.

But hasty drilling of wells and building water treatment plants like the one in Wangsa Maju will not be able to provide long term solutions to water woes in the Klang Valley.

If no proper serious efforts are taken now, the current water crisis will recur on a scale much worse than what 1.5 million residents in the Klang Valley have experienced over the past few months. 2007