SINGAPORE: There have been seven pollution incidentsalong the Johor River since 2017 that caused PUB's Johor River Waterworks to be temporarily shut down, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Monday (May 6).
Mr Masagos said this in a written response to parliamentary questions by Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng on the impact that prolonged stoppage of the water treatment plant's operations had on Singapore, as well as Singapore's obligations to provide treated water to Johor under such a scenario.
"PUB will shut down its Johor River Waterworks when the Johor River is affected by pollution upstream of our waterworks," said Mr Masagos.
"Johor also has water treatment plants along the Johor River, upstream of the Johor River Waterworks, and will shut down the plants when pollution occurs upstream of them."
The seven pollution incidents were traced to illegal discharge from places like palm oil mills and chicken farms within the catchment area. So far there have been two pollution incidents in 2019, with the most recent one on Apr 4 involving high ammonia levels in the Johor River.
Such occurrences typically cause disruptions ranging from several hours to several days, said the minister.
SINGAPORE'S WATER OBLIGATIONS WHEN POLLUTION OCCURS
In his response, Mr Masagos also said that Singapore is not obliged to supply Malaysia with treated water when the former is unable to import water from Johor due to pollution.
"Given the importance of the Johor River to the water supply of both Singapore and Johor, we have expressed our concern over the frequent recurrence of pollution incidents to Malaysia, both at the federal and state levels," he said, adding that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had most recently raised these concerns at the Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat in April.
Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Singapore is entitled to draw 250 million gallons per day (mgd) of water from the Johor River, while Johor is entitled to buy treated water up to 2 per cent of the total quantity of water imported to Singapore on any given day or about 5 mgd when Singapore draws its full entitlement.
"In practice, we have been selling Johor 16 mgd of treated water, which is in excess of their entitlement, at Johor’s request. We do so on a goodwill basis without prejudice to our rights under the 1962 Water Agreement," said Mr Masagos.
READ: Singapore and Malaysia - the water issue
"When we are unable to import any water from Johor due to pollution, Singapore has no obligation to supply treated water to Malaysia," he added.
Mr Masagos also noted how close collaboration between PUB and the Johor authorities has helped in managing the pollution incidents.
"During these pollution incidents, PUB works closely with the Johor authorities to flush the polluted water column from the Johor River. Such collaboration between PUB and its Johor counterparts has helped us to manage the pollution incidents," he said.
Additionally, the minister touched on how PUB conducts stringent water quality tests to ensure that raw water from Johor River is suitable for treatment before resuming operations.
During such temporary disruptions, PUB steps up production at desalination plants and local waterworks to meet Singapore's demand.
"Nevertheless, pollution incidents along the Johor River impacts the water supply of both countries, and remain a serious concern," said Mr Masagos.
"We will continue to engage our Malaysian counterparts on the need for them to take measures to prevent future pollution incidents along the Johor River."