Addressing Penang's future water supply needs

The Ulu Muda Forest Reserve should be gazetted as a Northern Region Water Catchment Area to stop logging activities and sustain water supply to Penang, Kedah and Perlis.

 Registering for the talk on water supply sustainability.

Registering for the talk on water supply sustainability.

This was expressed by the Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) and PBA Holdings Bhd Chief Executive Officer Dato’ Jaseni Maidinsa in his public lecture on “Water Supply Sustainability for Penang” at the WOU main campus on October 2nd.  In a captivating two-hour lecture, Jaseni traced the historical, geographical, political and economic factors that contributed towards continuous, efficient, affordable and well-treated water supply to homes and industries in Penang.

 Jaseni shares on PBAPP’s accomplishments and the challenges ahead.

Jaseni shares on PBAPP’s accomplishments and the challenges ahead.

Ulu Muda covers 163, 103 hectares of rainforests and is the key water catchment for three northern states, providing 96% of the water supply in Kedah, 70% in Perlis, and more than 80% of the water supply in Penang. Hence, Jaseni called on the Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister to ban logging in Ulu Muda by gazetting the area as 100% water catchment and not 75% timber production as presently. “Logging in Ulu Muda threatens the lives and livelihoods of the 4.09 million people from Perlis, Kedah and Penang who generate an estimated RM115 billion in GDP contributions to the states.”

 Jaseni calls on the people in Penang not to waste but to appreciate and value the water they get.

Jaseni calls on the people in Penang not to waste but to appreciate and value the water they get.

He explained that Penang is the only state that experiences “no water rationing” and its guarantee of the cheapest, 24/7, 365 days of water supply has attracted frustrated industry players from other states and Singapore to move to Penang. “We have the highest water treatment reserve margin of 34.8%, as compared to the national average of 13.2%, to take care of peak demands, dry weather demand and non-reserve water (NRW) lost through leakage or theft.”

On the oft-repeated requests of Kedah to be compensated, Jaseni pointed out that it is the federal government that must compensate the Kedah state government for the water resource. “Penang is one of the most industrialised states and contributes a high GDP and income tax to the federal government, since the more economically-well states pay more to the federal coffers,” Jaseni reasoned.

 Dr Kam Suan Pheng (front row, seated left) of Penang Forum poses a question.

Dr Kam Suan Pheng (front row, seated left) of Penang Forum poses a question.

He also mentioned the challenge of high per capita domestic consumption in Penang which has increased by 8.2% from 1999 to 2017. “The projected water consumption for Penang is going to double from 826 million litres per day (MLD) in 2017 to 1884 million litres per day in 2050,” he warned. Among the steps taken by PBAPP are the water demand management surcharge to encourage people to use less water and the mandatory installation of water saving devices (WSDs) in all new buildings from 2017.

He said another challenge to Penang’s water supply is relying on only one primary raw water resource, Sungai Muda, with its quality and quantity threatened by logging in Ulu Muda. “Our problem is we are too reliant on Sungai Muda. If anything happens to Kedah, we are in trouble,” Jaseni remarked.

 Jaseni stresses on the need to make the water from Sungai Muda safe.

Jaseni stresses on the need to make the water from Sungai Muda safe.

He said one of PBAPP’s strategies is to identify an additional source of raw water, namely Sungai Perak.  He stated that Singapore’s strategy meanwhile is to spend on water recycling, rainfall harvesting and desalination which cost millions. “Penang’s water demand is projected to reach 1884 MLD by 2050.  More than 80% of Penang’s raw water is abstracted from Sungai Muda daily.”

He said projections indicate that Sungai Muda may reliably meet Kedah and Penang’s combined raw water needs only up to 2025, or earlier if threatened by logging and dry weather. He said the Sungai Perak Raw Water Transfer Scheme, if implemented by the federal government, can supply the raw water needs of North Perak and Penang until year 2050 since it can provide 1,300 million litres per day.

 Acting Vice Chancellor Prof Zoraini Wati Abas presents a token of appreciation to the speaker.

Acting Vice Chancellor Prof Zoraini Wati Abas presents a token of appreciation to the speaker.

More than 120 people attended, including representatives from local authorities, PBAPP, government agencies and NGOs. The talk was organised by the School of Humanities & Social Sciences and sponsored by WOU’s Institute for Research and Innovation (IRI).

 Prof David Ngo Chek Ling, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research & Outreach) and Chairman of IRI, introducing the speaker at the start of the event.

Prof David Ngo Chek Ling, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research & Outreach) and Chairman of IRI, introducing the speaker at the start of the event.