THE water level at Penang Island’s Air Itam Dam has dropped to about 60% of capacity, news reports say. This is due to the prevailing hot and dry season, coupled with high water consumption, especially during the Chinese New Year celebrations.
The dam supplies water to the Air Itam township and surrounding areas. The rest of the state gets more than 80% of its water supply from the Muda River through the Sungai Dua Water Treatment Plant.
Penang is considered a water-stressed state. The current conditions are cause enough for concern that the Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP for Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang) raised the alarm, urging all Penang residents to reduce their daily consumption of water.
The water corporation shared some water-saving tips such as not using a hose when washing vehicles and watering plants, taking shorter showers and checking regularly for leaking taps and broken pipes.
As responsible human beings and residents, we must play our role to support the state’s attempts to reduce water use, to avoid water rationing policies.
According to the United Nations, one can enjoy a good quality of life with 100 litres per person per day. But Malaysians generally use about three times that amount.
Most Penangites would agree that the state’s water supply operator has done very well over the last few decades, maintaining its vision of reliable water supply needs on a 24/7 basis. There has been no serious threat of water rationing for Penang. Preemptive measures are in place to avoid water shortage.
The successful management of the state’s water dates back to the days of the late Datuk Ir Kam U-Tee, who was general manager of the state’s water authority from 1973 to 1990. Fondly known as the “Waterman of Penang”, his diligence, foresightedness and dedication contributed greatly to the success of the Penang water authority. He laid a solid foundation on which the younger water engineers continue to build upon till today.
The water authority has received accolades for its work. It won two Asean Engineering Awards at the 33rd Conference of Asian Federation of Engineering Organisations in 2015. One was for the Sungai Dua Water Treatment Plant for outstanding engineering skills, while the other went to CEO Datuk Ir Jaseni Maidinsa for outstanding leadership.
But now, new challenges are emerging, including increasing population and urban growth, over-consumption of water, as well as unpredictable seasonal conditions that could get worse with changes in weather patterns.
To sustain water supply while facing these challenges, PBAPP’s initiatives include raising the value of water through tariffs and a water conservation surcharge (WCS). The surcharge is only applicable for high domestic consumption. Domestic consumers who use less than 35,000 litres a month do not have to pay water conservation surcharges.
Starting from 2017, it is mandatory for all new development projects to install water saving devices which can automatically reduce water consumption by between 14% and 87%.
The authority together with the state government will launch a campaign to encourage consumers to use such water saving devices for bathroom equipment, washing machines, dishwashers, etc.
Another initiative of PBAPP in the pipeline is tapping a new water resource from Sungai Perak. If there is not enough raw water from rivers and catchment areas, there will be rainwater harvesting, water recycling or desalination.
Coincidentally, March 22 is designated as World Water Day and it was first commemorated in 1993.
World Water Day is meant to emphasise the importance of fresh water and sustainable water resource management, now codified as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Recognising that universal access to water is one of the most fundamental conditions of human development, the UN aims to achieve clean and affordable water and sanitation for all by 2030. By 2050, one in five developing nations is expected to face water shortage.
Penangites should heed the advice of the state water authority to be responsible with water. Often, we do not value what we have until it is gone. While Penang’s water needs have mostly been met so far, we may not be so fortunate in future. Learning not to waste water and how best to protect it is not just for us, but also for the generations to come.
Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: email@example.com