July 24, 2012
Water, Yet No Water: Need for Sustainable Water Supply
MALAYSIA gets more than 80 inches of rainfall on average in a year. Some places get a lot more.We have 70% of our land area under forests, or so we are told. We have rivers and streams running the length and breadth of the country — and they never run dry.
Anecdotally, we don’t even seem to have a distinct dry season these days with rain coming in large squalls more or less throughout the year. There is so much rain sometimes the ground can’t absorb all the run-off and we get floods.
What then can possibly be an excuse when we start talking about an impending water supply problem, including rationing in many areas in Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley where over six million people live, work and play? None at all.
The inescapable conclusion that we must make if any part of Malaysia lacks for water at any time during the year is that there has been utter lack of planning, substantial incompetence and patronage.
Now, things are complicated by the fact that the Selangor government is in Opposition hands, making the resolution of existing water conflicts and woes caused by previous misplaced, misguided, miscued policies that much more complex.
For a proper resolution of the existing dire water situation in the KL/Klang Valley area, it is necessary to have a historical but practical perspective of things realising that a bad situation or deal cannot be put right immediately.
Even as attempts are made to unravel previous agreements, one must realise that there are legal agreements in place and that they just cannot be discarded. Even if there are provisions for some things to be undone, it has to be carried out in a manner that does not disrupt water supply.
While it would be morally correct and prudent to question excessive spending on water supply, there has to be a simultaneous understanding that if existing plans to ensure continuous supply are put in jeopardy, there will be a real chance that water supply lines will be broken.
That means that alternative plans must be on the table for supply if original plans are going to be scrapped.There has to be clear identification of what these plans are and how long they will take to ensure water supply.
We must also realise that many mistakes have been made over the issue of water supply and agreements with concessionaires. This has made the solution of water woes more difficult because one has to keep on looking at how new arrangements will affect old ones.
It will be absolutely necessary, in the interest of doing things better in future, that these mistakes are not repeated because as history has shown it will be very difficult to undo them.
Such complicated things are delicate and difficult to handle and involve a lot of technical details. High-cost measures are not necessarily the best. Experts talk of using water-runoff, for instance, instead of dams. There is the possibility of using ground water, too.
Surely Selangor has enough water instead of having it piped through an expensive tunnel from Pahang. If we reduced non-revenue water wastage — through broken and old pipes and water pilferage — we could potentially solve water woes, too. An estimated 40% of water is lost this way.
And all this is not rocket science. Penang has done it well over many years through a state-owned company that was eventually listed.Its consumers pay one of the lowest rates for water and enjoy among the highest water security in the country.
It is sad but true that political will is at the best of times low. But with two political coalitions tugging away at either end of the pole, you get a lot of wasted effort and nothing to show for it.
The best way out would be a process akin to arbitration. What that means is both political sides surrender their decision to an arbitration panel, which in this case will take the form of an independent team of advisers from at least three different firms of water experts.
Give them three months to look at it, study the matter, choose alternatives and come up with a proposal.
Only, their proposal should be binding on both parties — in this case, the federal and state governments.
If they can’t do this, than the future looks very bleak, the public is going to be pissed off with both sides as they badly want sustainable water supply, and there will indeed be “Water, water every where…Nor any drop to drink” as Coleridge wrote in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.