The price of water and the cost of having a cold neighbour

Penang is seeking to draw raw water from Sungai Perak to meet anticipated increases in demand, but the Perak government has insisted on selling only treated water.

GEORGE TOWN: Water tariffs in Penang will shoot up to at least twice the current rate if the state buys treated water from Perak, an NGO has warned.

Speaking to FMT, Water Watch Penang president Chan Ngai Weng noted that Perak had offered its treated water at 70 sen per 1,000 litres and said this meant Penang would be forced to raise tariffs to at least the same rate in order to break even.

Currently, domestic users in Penang pay 22 to 35 sen per 1,000 litres.

Penang is seeking to draw raw water from Sungai Perak to meet anticipated increases in demand, but the Perak government has insisted on selling only treated water.

One of Penang’s deputy chief ministers, P Ramasamy, said on Wednesday that Perak’s stance went against a National Water Council convention. The council ruled last February that water transferred between states should be in its raw form.

Ramasamy accused the water, land and national resources ministry of supporting Perak’s position.

Chan said he agreed with the deputy chief minister that the federal government should stick to the council’s decision.

He also said Perak should behave like a good neighbour.

“Perak should not capitalise on Penang’s lack of water to sell treated water,” he said. “It should not merely look at profits in the short term. There’s much it can learn from Penang in terms of water management and other development matters.

“Perak and Penang should instead collaborate and work harmoniously for the bigger good.”

Penang currently draws water from Sungai Muda, a river it shares with Kedah. It has been estimated that the river can cater to Penang’s demand only until 2025.

In 2009, the state decided that it should plan to pump water from Sungai Perak into Sungai Ijok in northern Perak.

Sungai Ijok is a tributary of Sungai Kerian, which is shared by Penang, Perak and Kedah. The Penang government planned to build a water treatment plant at the Penang side of Sungai Kerian.

The plan was approved by federal authorities in 2012 but the project never took off. Officially called the Sungai Perak Raw Water Transfer Scheme, the 14.8km water tunnel was expected to cost RM2 billion.

The cost of building the treatment plant was to be borne by Penang’s Water Supply Corporation. The four-phase water transfer scheme was expected to gradually increase the water supply to Penang by 1,000 million litres per day.

The Penang government said last April that a private initiative might fund the project.

Currently, Penang uses 276 litres per capita per day, 75 litres more than the national average.

Early this year, the state government announced that it would raise water rates by 10% to 20% as proposed by the National Water Services Commission. The state has the cheapest water rates in the country, with consumers paying an average of RM5.55 a month.