With the ongoing dry weather, the water level at Linggiu Reservoir in Johor (Malaysia) has fallen from 72 percent capacity at the start of the year to less than 50 percent. The water level last dropped below 50 percent in 2015 to reach a historic low of 20 percent in 2016. It has not fully recovered to the healthy level of 80 - 90 percent, which had been the case for almost 20 years when Linggiu Reservoir began operations in 1995.
Linggiu has been slow to recover because more water is being drawn from the Johor River than is sustainable. Singapore built the Linggiu Reservoir at a cost of more than $300 million to enable reliable abstraction of water at PUB’s Johor River Waterworks (JRWW). However, Malaysia has built water plants upstream of the JRWW, which have further added to the abstraction of water from the Johor River.
This challenging situation is exacerbated during dry weather, as PUB needs to discharge more water from Linggiu Reservoir to support water abstraction. In the event of a prolonged drought, a depleted Linggiu Reservoir will compromise Singapore’s right to abstract the full 250 million gallons per day (mgd) entitlement of water under the 1962 Water Agreement.
As mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat in April 2019, both countries have an interest to work together to ensure a sustainable water supply for both sides. This includes the identification of appropriate and timely measures, including schemes, to increase the yield of the Johor River.
On the ground, PUB enjoys long-standing cooperation with its counterpart in Johor. Recently, the Johor state water agency (BAKAJ) made a request to PUB for additional supply of treated water, as a result of disruption in production at Johor’s water plant in Scudai. PUB readily acceded to the request and has been doing so from 23 September 2019 to 27 September 2019.
Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Singapore is required to supply Johor with 5 million gallons per day (mgd) of treated water. In practice, PUB has been supplying 16 mgd of treated water to Johor at their request. This latest request for an additional 6 mgd of treated water is on top of the 16 mgd that Singapore already supplies to Johor. Johor made similar requests this year in January and August. Last year, Singapore supplied additional water in excess of the usual 16 mgd for 20 days.
In the spirit of good neighbourliness, PUB has supplied all the additional treated water above 5 mgd on a goodwill basis at the same price as under the 1962 Water Agreement, i.e. 50 sen per 1,000 gallons, which is a fraction of the cost of treating the water. This has been done without prejudice to our rights under the 1962 Water Agreement.
With climate change, Singapore has and will experience more extreme weather patterns, and prolonged dry spells will affect our water stocks. Thanks to our early and consistent investments in water reclamation and desalination, Singapore’s water supply is more resilient today. However, the production of NEWater and desalinated water is energy intensive. We call on Singaporeans to continue to take steps to use water prudently and avoid wastage.
To ensure a resilient supply of water for all Singaporeans, PUB has planned ahead and invested heavily over the past few decades to develop our four national taps. Likewise, Singapore must continue to plan and implement the infrastructure needed to meet the present and future challenges of climate change.