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LETTER TO EDITOR: INDECISION INDUCED WATER CRISIS

15th March 2018
LETTER TO EDITOR

INDECISION INDUCED WATER CRISIS

Many theories and conclusions are being made with regards to past few years water crisis in Selangor (including Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya). What actually caused it?

Low Treated Water Reserve Margin

Low treated water reserve margin is the culprit behind this. We have warned about such scenario since 2011 and in return we were called misleading as well a 'barua' this and that. Now only scientific and engineering fact stand strong as what we predicted has repeatedly took place.

Reserve Margin is the extra distributable capacity after catering the current demand. Reserve margin will allow the treatment plant to cater any sudden demand increase or unforeseen water shortage. It is vital to ensure there are 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) operation problems. Reserve margin will assist to reduce impact at affected areas as well as speed up recovery after a disruption.

When reserve margin is low, recovery after disruption will be longer as the system needs to cater filling up system's reservoirs, meet existing and backlogged demand as well as catering Non-Revenue Water (NRW). The low reserve margin situation also causes low water pressure in some areas even during normal operation on hotter days.

There are 2 solutions to solve low reserve margin. The first is building a new water treatment plant and secondly to reduce NRW. Using cost benefit analysis building a new water treatment plant is an immediate step. Reduction of NRW is a supporting solution as high NRW is loss treated water.

Why did we reach low reserve margin?

Water Services Industry Act 2006 (WSIA) was enforced on 1st January 2008 by Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara (SPAN). This requires state government to adapt to the restructuring via WSIA model. SPAN is the regulator for water services (water treatment, water supply and sewerage services). Liabilities from the existing operation will be transferred to Pengurusan Aset Air Berhad (PAAB) via the restructuring process. PAAB is also regulated by SPAN. All new infrastructures will be funded via PAAB or other cheaper financing (if applicable). Changing old pipes and building new treatment plants will be made easier. But, Selangor state government did not agree to restructure until 2014 water crisis that kept 60% of Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya consumers on a water rationing plan for few months.

Langat 2 Water Treatment Plant was scheduled to be completed by 2014 and now delayed to 2019. This plant will produce 1130 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of treated water and will add about 20% reserve margin if it began operation in 2014. From 2014 until today many new project and expansion of existing projects have been put on hold. Only selected projects via case to case basis are being approved. The demand increase in Klang Valley is a fake data as the demand increase is being suppressed. On the other hand, NRW level in Klang Valley is still above 30% and when Langat 2 is fully operational by 2019 the effective treated water that can be distributed will be around 790 MLD (after deducting conservative NRW level). We also need to keep in mind that, when more water is available for supply it will increase pressure in the pipe network which may cause higher NRW.

Now, the reserve margin after Langat 2 is operational will be around 10 – 15% depending on the NRW situation as well as demand increase. After Langat 2 operates, we are expecting steep increase in demand as many pending project applications will be approved swiftly. By 2021 or 2022, if NRW still above 25%, we will reach a low reserve margin situation again.

To make Langat 2 ease demand increase beyond 2025, we need to tackle NRW with full force.

Is Overloading A Good Practice?

Now we come back to the recent incident in Sungai Selangor Phase 3 (SSP3) water treatment plant. This plant is operating on overloading since 2016 by 20%. Overloading is operating a plant above its existing capacity. Overloading requires the treatment and supply system to be upgraded to cater higher treated water output. I remember questioning a senior SPAN official in a closed door meeting in Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHA) in early 2016 regarding this. Overloading will speed up wear and tear as well as increase the maintenance cost. The supporting systems needs to be upgraded to ensure there is no system failure. There is no way a scheduled maintenance can be postponed if a particular plant is operating under overloading situation. Did SPAN, KeTTHA and Selangor State Government made necessary engineering audit to see if the overloading is sustainable?

Just recently, it was reported that the manager of SSP3 plant mentioned lack of funds and expertise to maintain their plant. This is an absurd and irresponsible reasoning given by a concession holder. SPLASH also claimed that they objected ‘overloading’ their plant.

To ensure the facts are disclosed accurately, AWER urges SPAN to form an Independent Enquiry Committee on SSP3 issue. The terms of reference of the committee should include:
(i)    Overloading approval process for SSP3 followed required engineering audits to prevent unscheduled equipment failure;
(ii)    Time duration between detection of equipments with problem and actions taken;
(iii)    Potential breach of concession agreement clauses that can allow state government to cancel the concession agreement; and
(iv)    Overview of other treatment plants that are overloaded in Klang Valley to prevent SSP3 like incident.

This committee must publish its finding and ensure the treated water supply security in Klang Valley is not disrupted.

Restructuring Of Water Services Industry Is A Must

Selangor State Government must swiftly conclude the restructuring process and follow through the 30 years business plan promptly. Further delay only will cause more water disruptions as well as higher cost to tariff.

To other states that are still delaying restructuring into WSIA model, Selangor has set a clear cut example of the negative repercussion on failure to restructure at right timing to allow infrastructure development and improvement. Politicising water services will never bring any good to any entity. Just look at how Negeri Sembilan and Melaka have improved their water treatment and supply situation after restructuring.

Similarly, KeTTHA and SPAN should play a more proactive role compare to “wait and see” approach as what is happening now. They always point finger to others while having so much weakness and incompetency within their own operations. If need arises, incompetent officers should be removed to ensure Federal Government is able to protect water services which are crucial for the people and the economy.

Indecision induces water crisis!


Piarapakaran S.
President
Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (AWER)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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