KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government will prioritise the water needs of Johoreans over those of "outsiders" in the event of a water crisis, said Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Xavier Jayakumar on Tuesday (Nov 12).
Speaking in parliament, Dr Xavier urged the Singaporean government to “be more open” towards Malaysia’s suggestion to review the price of raw water based on Clause 14 of the 1962 Water Agreement.
“This is because a water stress will affect Johor as well as Singapore,” he said.
The minister was responding to a question from Segamat Member of Parliament R. Santhara Kumar on the current situation of water supply in Johor, including the sale of raw water to Singapore and steps to ensure sustainable water supply in the long run.
In his reply, Dr Xavier said a huge allocation for capital expenditure is needed to increase the state’s water reserve margin to 10 per cent, as stipulated by the National Water Services Commission. Significant investment is also needed to mitigate climate change and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, he added.
If mitigation efforts are not put in place to increase the output of treatment water, Johor Bahru, for instance, will have zero water reserve margin in the third quarter of next year, he noted.
The district’s water reserve margin is currently at about 4 per cent, the minister said, with demand for treated water expected to increase by 3.5 per cent a year due to rapid development.
“To handle the deficit, Johor at the moment relies on treated water supplied by Singapore - 70 million litres a day (on normal days) or 96 million litres a day during dry season and hot spell," he claimed.
“Based on the 1962 Johor River Water Agreement, Singapore only has to supply 22 million litres a day. As such, there is an urgent need to ensure sustainable water supply in Johor in the long run, including to reduce reliance on treated water supply from Singapore,” Dr Xavier added.
Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Singapore is entitled to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of water from the Johor River.
Singapore pays 3 sen per thousand gallons of raw water and sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per thousand gallons, a fraction of the cost of treating the water.
Johor is entitled to a daily supply of treated water of up to 2 per cent or 5 mgd of the water supplied to Singapore. In practice, however, Singapore has been supplying 16 mgd of treated water to Johor at its request. The agreement expires in 2061.
Malaysia had previously acknowledged that it chose not to ask for a review of the agreement in 1987 because it benefited from the pricing arrangement.
Both countries have said that their attorneys-general will continue discussions to "better understand each other’s position" on the right to review the price of water.
During a joint press conference between the leaders of both countries on Apr 9, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore has raised with the Malaysian government its concerns about pollution in the Johor River as well as its long-term yield.
He noted that Singapore's PUB waterworks at Kota Tinggi was forced to shut operations because of high ammonia levels on Apr 4.
READ: PUB's Johor River Waterworks temporarily shut down in 7 pollution incidents since 2017, says Masagos
Mr Lee said then that if the Johor River suffers pollution like how Kim Kim River did in March, the effects “will be disastrous for both countries”.
In March, thousands fell ill after an illegal dumping of chemical waste into the Kim Kim River in Pasir Gudang, Johor. Many were hospitalised, including students at nearby schools. More than 100 schools were ordered shut as a result. Nine people were later arrested.
At the press conference, Mr Lee also noted that Johor has built water plants on the Johor River, upstream of PUB’s waterworks at Kota Tinggi.
He said that these plants, together with PUB's Kota Tinggi water works, could possibly draw more water than the river can sustain.
There is a need to study how to meet both Johor and Singapore’s water requirements for the remainder of the Water Agreement, he said, adding that it is in both countries' interests to work together to ensure sustainable water supply.
INVESTMENT DOES NOT COMMENSURATE WITH RAW WATER PRICE: MINISTER
In a statement provided to the media on Tuesday, Dr Xavier said Malaysia has been subsidising Singapore by selling raw water at a very low price.
“The subsidy provided by the Malaysian government to Singapore since 1962 has hit billions of ringgit. And this has not taken into account the free raw water supplied to Singapore from 1927 to 1961.
“If the 250 mgd of raw water sold to Singapore are supplied to Johoreans in the form of treated water, the estimated profits could reach about RM14.7 billion (1987 to 2018). The profits can certainly be used to assist Malaysia in developing sustainable water supply in Johor,” he said.
The minister added that while the ministry respects Malaysia’s obligation as stated in the 1962 agreement, Malaysia has sacrificed its water supply for another party’s interests at the expense of Johoreans.
Huge expenses are incurred to ensure Singapore is able to extract 250 mgd of raw water from the Johor River, he insisted.
“For instance, the ministry spent close to RM100 million to build the barrage at Johor River to prevent salt water from seeping into the river. It is evident that the huge investment does not commensurate with the raw water price of 3 sen per thousand gallons,” he claimed in the statement.
Johor owns the Linggiu Dam, but Singapore has paid more than S$300 million for its construction and operational costs, as well as compensation for the land used for the Linggiu Reservoir, the potential loss of revenue from logging activities, and as a one-time payment of the lease of that land for the remaining tenure of the 1962 agreement.