Water plans not viable - water rationing inevitable

I refer to The Star's reports, "Raw water transfer project on" (Nov 15) and "Water relief for seven million consumers" (Nov 27).

The water authorities have finally realized that due to the undue delay in implementing the Pahang/Selangor interstate raw water transfer project, Selangor, the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya would face water shortages from year 2009.

To overcome the impending water supply shortfalls, the authorities have announced some measures to deal with them.

First, on 15 November, Energy, Water and Communications Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik proposed some mitigating solutions. They were: reducing NRW by replacing old pipes, increase tariffs to encourage water conservation and looking for alternate water sources like underground water.

Then, on 27 Nov, the Selangor's State Infrastructure and Public Utiliy Committee Chairman, Datuk Abdul Fatah Iskander announced the implementation of three raw water pumping schemes to increase raw water intakes at a number of water treatment plants.

But are all the above measures effective in resolving the expected water shortages in the coming years? Let's take a closer look.

• NRW reduction
The component of NRW that is relevant to improve supply is the reduction of pipe leakage which accounts for nearly 70% of the total NRW. To reduce pipe leakage to an economically acceptable level of say 15 % requires a long term comprehensive pipeline rehabilitation program and it would not significantly improve supply in the near terms. By simply replacing old pipes is no solution. Wanton pipe replacement is wanton waste of public funds!

• Increase water tariffs
The water tariffs have just been revised but the increase is not significant particularly for the third block exceeding 35 cubic meters per month per household to encourage water conservation.

• Develop groundwater sources
The availability of groundwater in Selangor is insignificant. This has been proven during the last water crisis in 1998 due to El Nino.

• Increase raw water intakes
In Malaysia, the capacity of a water treatment plant is designed based on the safe yield of a river source. It is therefore superfluous to install additional raw water pumps to increase the intake. If this is done, it would only increase the plant output beyond its designed capacity, but the quality of the water produced would invariably be lower. Also the additional raw water pumps can only operate during the rainy seasons.

In conclusion, all the above proposals are no solutions to the impending water shortages in the Klang Valley. So brace ourselves for a long period of water rationing and dry tapes in the near future.

The above was published in The Star on 5/12/06.

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