7 pollution incidents along Johor river have caused PUB plant's temporary shutdown since 2017: Masagos

The Johor–Singapore Causeway. (AFP file photo)
The Johor–Singapore Causeway. (AFP file photo)

SINGAPORE — There have been seven pollution incidents along the Johor river since 2017 that caused the Public Utilities Board’s (PUB’s) Johor River Waterworks plant to be shut down temporarily, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Tuesday (7 May).

These incidents have been traced to illegal discharges from premises such as palm oil mills and chicken farms within the water catchment area, he added.

The subsequent disruptions lasted from several hours to several days, said Masagos in Parliament in response to Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Seah Kian Peng’s questions.

“During such temporary disruptions, the PUB steps up production at desalination plants and local waterworks to meet Singapore's demand," he said.

Seah had asked about the impact on Singapore in the event of prolonged stoppage of water treatment operations at the waterworks plant, and the country's obligations to provide treated water to Johor under such a scenario.

Masagos said that the PUB will shut down the plant each time the river is affected by upstream pollution.

Johor, which has water treatment plants along the river and upstream of the waterworks plant, also shuts down its plants whenever pollution occurs upstream of them.

There have been two pollution incidents so far this year, added Masagos.

One occurred in March when chemicals were illegally dumped into Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang, affecting over thousands of residents.

The other happened on 4 April, when high ammonia levels in Sungai Sayong, one of the creeks that supplies raw water to the Johor river, resulted in the disruption of water supply to about 17,000 households in the town of Kulai.

“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.

Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Singapore is entitled to draw 250 million gallons of water per day (946 million litres) from the Johor river, said Masagos.

Meanwhile, Johor is entitled to buy treated water of up to two per cent of the total quantity of water Singapore imports on any given day or about 5 million gallons of water per day when Singapore draws its full entitlement.

In practice, Singapore has been selling Johor 16 million gallons of water per day of treated water, which is in excess of its entitlement, at Johor's request, said Masagos.

"We do so on a goodwill basis without prejudice to our rights under the 1962 Water Agreement. When we are unable to import any water from Johor owing to pollution, Singapore has no obligation to supply treated water to Malaysia,” added Masagos.

The PUB works closely with Johor’s authorities to flush the polluted water column from the river during these incidents, which "impact the water supply of both countries and remain a serious concern", Masagos said.

"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,” he added.

Masagos reiterated the point when Jalan Besar GRC MP Lily Neo asked about concerns on the hazardous contaminants in the water supply from Johor, how thoroughly Singapore checks on the quality of the water in Johor as well as the country’s say in such pollution incidents.

Both Singapore and Johor authorities check the water “very rigorously”, Masagos said. The Johor authorities usually alert their Singapore counterparts about polluted water before it comes to Singapore upstream, he added.

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