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Date:  09TH MAY 2023 (TUESDAY)


The prediction of El Nino formation beginning mid of 2023 until early 2024 has been made recently by few international meteorological agencies and many nations are taking precautionary measures to prevent adverse affect of the phenomenon. Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (AWER) would like to highlight to the government issues that must be taken into consideration to ensure that Malaysia is prepared to face this seasonal weather pattern.

1.         Dam Water Level and Raw Water Availability
Every dam has an operating manual and it is important that a raw water availability remodeling is carried out. The actual virgin forest cover has reduced tremendously over the past few decades and this will impact raw water availability and its natural replenishing ability. Thus, data related to previous El Nino phenomenon and its formation must be used for relative comparison to forecast possible prolonged dry season and its impacts.

2.         Raw Water Loss in River Flow
Dams are used to regulate river flows to ensure base flow is sufficient to support all activities that rely on a particular river. There is a lag (delay in time) after water is released by dam until it reaches the usage point. Due to lower forest cover and dry weather, water released from the dam may face high water loss to the surrounding and may not be able to meet the desired base flow. If more water is released to keep the base flow at required level, this action will deplete dam water at a faster rate. Effective measures must be put in place to ensure water loss is minimised and does not impact direct raw water extraction for industrial use, irrigation and operation of water treatment plants.

3.         Drop in Base Flow That  May Cause Pollution
Base flow of rivers drops during dry season and the El Nino phenomenon may cause it to drop further. This situation will reduce dilution factor in our rivers. While the same amount of pollutants may be present, the low dilution factor may increase pollution level in our rivers. Therefore, additional measures such as higher frequency of pollutants’ level monitoring must be put in place to ensure raw water is suitable to be extracted and used.

4.         Seawater Intrusion
Due to drop in base flow in rivers that may be induced by El Nino phenomenon, some rivers may face higher seawater intrusion risk. Counter measure must be put in place to ensure normal economic activities are not impacted especially if there are downstream water treatment plants or inter-state raw water pumping stations.

5.         Pollution Prevention
Low base flow during prolonged dry season or induced by El Nino will put high stress to raw water availability. To ensure water treatment plants’ operations are not affected, Department of Environment and state government agencies that are in charge of raw water must increase enforcement to prevent water pollution incidents.  Detection of illegal factories and dumping sites must be done swiftly with the assistance from Local Authorities.

6.         Peat Fire and Haze
Decrease in forest cover especially virgin forest cover will impact the natural water cycle which eventually causes lower localised rainfall. Due to this, risk of peat fire will increase during dry season. The relevant agencies must be on alert to prevent peat fire from occurring and ensure sufficient water is available to put off the peat fire. Haze may strike harder during El Nino phenomenon as well.

7.         Energy Consumption and Electricity Cost
Hotter weather increases both water and electricity consumption. We are aware that the Ukraine-Russia war and OPEC+ cartel play has impacted energy resources prices globally. Due to direct negotiation of more than 4500 MW (MegaWatt) capacity of power plant award, higher generation cost (capacity charges) impacts the electricity tariff. AWER has advised the government to renegotiate the Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) especially those directly violate government policies to reduce cost impact to tariff. The government must also be aware that El Nino phenomenon is predicted to occur in the second half of 2023 which will coincide with 2023 winter energy crunch. Thus, the government must take measures to manage the fuel cost impacts for first half of 2024 when ICPT (Imbalanced Cost Pass Through) is implemented.

On the other hand, due to incompetence of electricity plant up planning in allowing intermittent (unreliable) solar power generation to increase rapidly over the last decade, higher dependency will be placed again on fossil fuel power generation for peak demand. This situation will arise if bad haze condition is induced by El Nino phenomenon for a prolonged period. Thus, the government must put in place proper cost management mechanism to ensure consumers and businesses are not affected by increase in electricity tariff (ICPT surcharge) due to increased fossil fuel dependence.
8.         Treated Water Supply
Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Air Negara (SPAN) and both Sabah and Sarawak state governments must put in place proper mechanisms to monitor and manage treated water supply situation. Under Water Services Industry Act 2006 (WSIA), treated water usage control (Section 54: Reduction or Cessation of Supply) and water emergency (Section 56: Special Powers During Emergency) can be implemented if a water crisis is induced by El Nino phenomenon. Under Section 54, normal water rationing, cessation of supply as well as control of water pressure can be implemented. However, if situation worsen, Section 56 can be used to implement a stricter and targeted control and cessation of water supply. In view of Sabah and Sarawak are not part of WSIA model, both states can emulate similar approaches to manage the situation.

Colour coding and tagging raw water availability situation into green, yellow, orange, red and brown as well as preparing suitable control mechanisms to correspond with treated water supply situation can be done much earlier and communicated to all consumers to ensure smooth implementation. The past experience in carrying out water rationing also showed that the Non-Revenue Water (NRW – treated water that is lost in the treated water supply system due to leakages and other technical faults as well as theft) will increase due to controlled treated water supply having higher water pressure. This may end up increasing leakages during water rationing. SPAN and both Sabah and Sarawak state governments must ensure proper pressure management to keep NRW under control during water rationing.

9.         Areas with Poor Water Supply Infrastructures
Old settlements, suburban and rural areas may face low water pressure and no water supply situation during dry season due to peak hour water consumption that may be prolonged. Thus, areas with poor water supply infrastructures and low water pressure must be identified and equipped with static water tanks that can be filled up using water tank lorries. This will minimise impact of peak hour water supply disruption. All water operators must know these locations and no excuse should be entertained. These situations still exist due to delay in National Water Services Industry Restructuring (NWSIR) implementation. Rural water supply projects that do not fall under ministry in charge of water should be subjected to similar approaches by relevant ministry to streamline the crisis management.

10.       Economic Activities Relying on Raw Water
Direct extraction of raw water from rivers must be properly tabulated and managed. Federal and state governments must put in place proper mechanism to analyse and derive the efficiency parameters for sectors that directly extract raw water for its operations to avoid raw water wastage.

11.       Water Reuse and Water Recycle
Water reuse is reuse of wastewater produced in an operation with minimum treatment to substitute the use of treated water. Water recycling is introduction of a proper treatment process to convert wastewater to be used in industrial or business activities to substitute the use of treated water. The business sector must invest to reduce its operational risk that may be impacted due to projected El Nino phenomenon as well as part of the journey to reduce water footprint strategically.

12.       Coordinate Planning and Implementation of Government’s Approaches
Federal and state level committees must be formed to ensure coordinated information sharing and concerted efforts are carried out to manage a possible El Nino induced crisis. All past El Nino occurrences that have been recorded must be studied and compared against loss of natural forest cover. We would like to reiterate that production forest is not the same as natural virgin forest. Thus, an updated raw water availability remodelling must be done to ensure we are prepared for a worst case scenario and minimise social, economic and environmental impacts.

AWER has sent letter to Prime Minister, relevant cabinet members and state governments to take immediate steps to prepare to face El Nino. While El Nino formation is still a prediction, it is better for all of us to be prepared and minimise any adverse social, economic and environmental impact.

Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (AWER)

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