Water tariff hike inevitable for Penangites

Jaseni Maidinsa

Ian McIntyre, The Ant Daily

Treated water that flows into our homes is expected to cost more sometime in the future, like it or not.

The scarcity of it, coupled with higher production costs and a swell in demand due to an ever growing population, is likely to be cited as reasons one day for a water tariff hike.

Will consumers, particularly in Penang, accept this?

It comes at a time when there is already widespread unhappiness over rising living costs and fears that the impending Goods and Services Tax (GST) may trigger another round of price hikes.

In Penang, both the islanders and mainlanders have been enjoying relatively low water rates over the years, and this includes those in the commercial and industrial sectors.

Penangites seem to be pampered as they are paying among the lowest tariffs in the country, yet they are also guilty of high rate of water wastage.

Despite such challenges, Penang’s water authority is said to have recorded impressive revenue figures for the state.

The quality of water management and supply services is also said to be among the main factors luring investments to the state.

But the reality is that Penang’s water fate is likened to Singapore’s. Both islands are water-stressed territories, and Penang Water Authority (PBAPP) chief executive officer Jaseni Maidinsa (picture) said it best by stressing that the state is running out of water resources.

There is now a growing worry over the impact of the El-Nino weather phenomenon, which usually suffocates the affected areas with high humidity, haziness, drought and searing heat.

Jaseni spoke about rainwater harvesting, desalination and importing more water as alternative measures for the future.

“Our journey is similar to Singapore — a water-stressed state,” Jaseni said.

The dam levels in Penang remain at reasonable levels for now but cloud seeding to induce rain is an option.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who chairs the PBAPP board, is insisting that water rationing is the last resort, and wants the water authorities to avert any crises by improving efficiencies.

The Air Itam dam is filled up to 87.6 per cent, the Teluk Bahang Dam’s capacity is now at 54.2 per cent and the Mengkuang Dam, where the water level was reduced due to expansion work, has 35 per cent.

To prevent wastage and promote conservation, the state has proposed a small increase in water rates, and it is hoping that the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) would give the nod.

The increase is generally accepted by the consumers, although grudgingly.

PBAPP’s average domestic tariff for the first 35,000 litres per month is listed at 31 sen per litre, the lowest in the country.

The tariff for the first 20,000 litres of domestic consumption per month would not change, but the rate for usage of more than 20,000 would be increased by 9.5 per cent under the state’s proposal.

At its 14th annual general meeting, the authority said that it made a profit after tax of RM27.93 million last year.

Impressive but the future is looking bleak if the PBAPP has to deal with a continued high rate of wastage amid dwindling resources.

It also has to deal with inter-state “politics” as both Kedah and Perak do not seem receptive to selling raw water to their smaller neighbour, Penang.

Despite these concerns, the fortunes of the state’s water resources lie mainly with the consumers.

And they better think twice whenever they choose to wash cars every week, leave taps running or take showers three times daily.

Perhaps, the increase can be averted for now, hoping for only a nominal hike in water tariffs in the future. For this to happen, there is a need to save water now.

A significant rate rise may impact on the delicious hawker fare in Penang, as water is most definitely needed to cook up a hearty meal of “hokkien mee or nasi kandar”.

“If you want to know what water rationing means, please ask your relatives in Selangor,” quipped Jaseni at the end of his press conference.