Monday, February 19, 2018

Reimagining Malaysia Part 15: Water Governance

Water is precious. However, just like air, people generally don’t spare it a thought until there is a shortage. This is probably the most boring topic of the book because it involves a lot of technical details but I want to dedicate this chapter to writing about the challenges of supplying water to Selangor and Kuala Lumpur as well as the ongoing water industry reform. This, I feel, will help the next generation to not take their water supply for granted. The same perspectives can also be applied to water management in other states.


Because of historical reasons, the water supply in Selangor is combined with that of Kuala Lumpur. (I’ll use Selangor water from now on for simplicity purposes but it should be understood that it stands for the water supply for Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.) Managing the Selangor water industry is far more challenging than it is in other states because it serves seven million users. That makes us the biggest water supplier in Malaysia with a water demand size almost triple that of the second largest water usage state (Johor) [1]. In fact, it is one of the biggest in the world.

In addition, there is rapid industrialisation along many rivers in Selangor, which leads to river pollution as well as the drying up of rivers. This poses a serious threat to the resilience of raw water supply to Selangor. At the time of writing, the water industry is still in the process of consolidation after being wrongly privatised for many years, resulting in a fragmented water industry. 

The figure below shows the fragmented Selangor water industry before consolidation. All the private water companies, with the exception of SPLASH, have been taken over by the Selangor State Government and placed under Air Selangor since the end of 2015.

The Fragmented Selangor Water Industry Before Consolidation
Source: KiniBiz Online [2], 2013

Before Air Selangor came about, the Selangor state government and federal government were at loggerheads for seven years before coming to an agreement, commonly known as the Selangor water deal. I will not go into the rights and wrongs of both sides of the political divide in dealing with the water dispute because the main purpose of this chapter is to explain the water situation as it exists today, the ongoing reforms and what we can and should expect in the future of water governance.

Most of the data that I am going to share in the rest of the article is consolidated from various reports [ref 3 to 9] of the water select committee* in Selangor, which was formed by the Selangor state assembly to provide oversight for the Selangor government’s actions in overcoming the state’s water challenges [10].

Currently, there are three main challenges that the state faces when it comes to water supply – low water reserve margin, river pollution and climate change. Due to space limit, I’ll only discuss low water reserve margin in this article while the other two can be found in the book.

Low Reserve Margin

At the time of writing, the challenge for Selangor’s water supply is at its most difficult stage. There will be major water disruption if there is a disturbance in the water supply chain, either scheduled events like pipe replacement or plant shutdowns for maintenance, or unscheduled incidences in the form of WTPs shutting down as a result of pollution or a main pipe bursting. Some of these water disruptions take a few days to resolve.

The current water situation is a manifestation of the fact that the state’s water supply is running at the razor thin water reserve margin of between one and three percent. (The water reserve margin is the net water supply minus water demand; it is the additional capacity of the water supply system.) 

A good water reserve margin would ensure that other WTPs or reservoirs can fill the distribution system to compensate for the water lost due to any production or distribution disruption because there is additional water supply capacity. This would allow minimal disruption at the user-end.

At a thin margin, what is supplied is almost equivalent to what users demand. Therefore, if some part of the water supply is disrupted or when there is a sudden surge of demand, water will stop flowing in the pipeline as the distribution system will not have sufficient water. The size of the water disruption depends on the magnitude of water lost from the disruption.

Why is Selangor’s water reserve margin so low? This is due to many years of underinvestment in the state’s water infrastructure by its private water concessionaires. At the time of taking over the water industry by the Selangor government at the end of 2015, more than 6,286km (22 percent) of the 28,253km of pipes in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur were ageing asbestos cement pipes that needed to be replaced. The non-revenue water (NRW) was as high as 35 percent - for every 100L of water produced by the WTPs, only 65L was able to reach the users while the rest was wasted because of physical leakage (75 percent) or commercial loss (25 percent) in the form of theft and meter malfunction. 

Supply Management

Many people have asked why there has been no improvement in the water crisis after the Selangor government took over the water industry. The short answer to this is that the construction or refurbishment of water infrastructure takes time. We need to replace old pipes and build more water treatment plants to get the water reserve margin to a comfortable level.

Since taking over the water industry, the Selangor government has allocated more than RM1 billion towards the building of water infrastructure. This is not a small amount for the state government as it is equivalent to more than 30 percent of Selangor’s annual income. Bear in mind that water infrastructure takes time to build even when you have the money for it.

A point worth mentioning is that the state would have gone into a negative water reserve margin scenario (where demand exceeds supply) if not for the completion of the RM200 million Mitigasi 2 project, which upgraded SSP1, SSP3 and Rasa WTP and added 235 MLD water supply to the Petaling District as well as the RM43 million Mitigasi 3 project, which upgraded Langat WTP and added 50 MLD water supply to the Hulu Langat District.

As of now, Air Selangor has identified 84 burst pipe hotspots that will undergo systematic pipe replacement projects at the cost of RM400 million. We aim to complete work at all the hotspots by 2019. In the meantime, more hotspots will be identified with further funding and action required in the form of pipe replacement.

The Selangor state government has also allocated funds to build two new WTPs, Semenyih 2 at the cost of RM150 million and Labohan Dagang, at the cost of RM500 million. Construction of the two plants has already started, with Semenyih 2 scheduled for completion in 2018 and Labohan Dagong a year after that. It is estimated that a small part of the Langat 2 WTP project, which is a federal government project, will be completed by the first half of 2018.

After the completion of these projects, the state will reach the more comfortable water reserve margin of about 12 percent by the end of 2019. We will see a marked improvement in the water situation in Selangor and KL in terms of water supply consistency then.

Demand Management

Thus far, we have only discussed the supply side of the equation. Another way to overcome a low water reserve margin is through demand management.

On average, the state’s domestic water users consume about 231 litres per day per person (l/d/p) while the World Health Organization’s (WHO) international standard is 165 l/d/p for a healthy and comfortable life. In another words, our water users’ consumption per person is more than 40 percent higher than the international standard! You may blame the weather for our high water usage, but our neighbouring country of Singapore – which has the same weather as us – only records a domestic water usage of 159 l/d/p.

Water users in Selangor need to learn how to save water. If all water users in the state cut down consumption by 10 to 15 percent, the state would achieve a 10 to 15 percent water reserve margin without any infrastructure expansion.

Indeed, water is precious. Water flowing from our taps comes at a cost, not only monetarily (in terms of water treatment and distribution costs) but also environmentally. Hence we need to make sure that water pricing is such that there is no incentive to over-consume water. The state government is spending billions of Ringgit to refurbish and build water infrastructure – it makes no sense for taxpayer money to be used to subsidise water wastage.

Water Governance in the Future

All in all, although a lot of efforts have been made by the Selangor state government since taking over the water industry at the end of 2015 in terms of overcoming the challenges of low water reserve, river pollution and climate change, water supply in Selangor will only reach a comfortable level in 2019 when the construction of WTPs are partially or fully completed, thus improving the water reserve margin and hence, water supply consistency.

Selangor water users must learn to conserve water. Water comes at a cost, both financially and environmentally. We should not take our water supply for granted, especially in the increasingly urbanised states in Malaysia. 

This article is extracted from a chapter of my upcoming book, "Reimagining Malaysia."

* The water select committee was first known as Jawatankuasa Pilihan Khas Pengurusan Sumber Air Mentah (JPK-SAM), which only provided legislative oversight on raw water management (because the state government only had control over raw water management then). It later widened its scope to match the state government’s control to include water treatment and distribution after the state government took over the once privatized water industry and was renamed as Jawatankuasa Pilihan Khas Pengurusan Sumber Air Selangor (JPK-SAS).

[1] Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara (SPAN). Water Consumption 2014-2015. [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from
[2] Adila Razak. Selangor water: privatization gone awry. KiniBiz Online. 26 Feb 2013 [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from
[3] JPK-SAM Select Committee Report. Pengurusan Air Selangor dan Pembekalan Sumber Air Mentah Sungai Selangor. Kertas Bil. 14/2015. 5 Mac 2015.
[4] JPK-SAM Select Committee Report. Pencemaran Ammonia Di LPA BT 11, Cheras Dan LPA Bukit Tampoi di Sungai Langat. Kertas Bil.16/2015. 5 Mac 2015.
[5] JPK-SAM Select Committee Report. Pengurusan air negeri Selangor (kuantiti): persediaan bekalan air untuk musim kering dan masa depan. Kertas Bil 38/2015. 10 Jul 2015.
[6] JPK-SAS Select Committee Report. Pengurusan air terawat negeri Selangor (kuantiti): Pengurangan NRW, laporan status kemajuan projek mitigasi 2 dan Langat 2. Kertas Bil 82/2015. 28 Sept 2015.
[7] JPK-SAS Select Committee Report. Kualiti : Kawalan Pencegahan Pencemaran Di Lembangan Sungai Langat. Kertas Bil. 6/2016. 17 Feb 2016.
[8] JPK-SAS Select Committee Report. Kuantiti : Status Terkini Bekalan Air Mentah dan Air Terawat di Negeri Selangor, Status Projek-Projek Aktif, dan Isu Insiden Paip Pecah. Kertas Bil. 7/2016. 17 Feb 2016.
[9] JPK-SAS Select Committee Report. Kuantiti : Status Terkini Projek-Projek Loji Rawatan Air Labohan Dagang, Loji Rawatan Air Semenyih 2, dan Penaiktarafan Loji Rawatan Air. Kertas Bil.19/2016. 28 Jun 2016.
[10] Dewan Negeri Selangor. Jawatankuasa Pilihan Khas Pengurusan Sumber Air Negeri Selangor (JPK-SAS). [cited 31 Aug 2017]. Available from