Parliament Q&A

Oral reply by Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, to Parliamentary Questions on Johor River Waterworks on 7 May 2019

Question by Mr Seah Kian Peng: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) what is the impact to Singapore in the event of a prolonged stoppage of water treatment operations at the Johor River Waterworks; and (b) what are Singapore's obligations to provide treated water to Johor under such a scenario.

Question by Dr Lily Neo: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) how often has the raw water quality been unacceptable for our water treatment plants in Johor since they have been in operation; (b) how did that affect the supply of water to Singapore and Johor; and (c) what is the mitigation plan going forward.

Answer by Minister Masagos Zulkifli:

I would like to reiterate the written reply that I had issued yesterday in response to Mr Seah Kian Peng’s question. PUB will shut down its Johor River Waterworks when the Johor River is affected by pollution upstream of our waterworks. 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.

2. Since 2017, there have been seven pollution incidents along the Johor River which caused PUB’s Johor River Waterworks to be temporarily shut down. These incidents have been traced to illegal discharges from premises such as palm oil mills and chicken farms within the catchment area. These pollution incidents typically cause disruptions ranging from several hours to several days.  So far this year, there have been two pollution incidents, with the most recent one on 4 April 2019, where there were high ammonia levels in the Johor River.  

3. 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. Most recently at the Singapore–Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat in April, Prime Minister Lee raised concerns over pollution in the Johor River and the severe impact of pollution incidents on both countries.

4. 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% of the total quantity of water we import 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. When we are unable to import any water from Johor due to pollution, Singapore has no obligation to supply treated water to Malaysia.

5. 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. PUB conducts stringent water quality tests to ensure that the raw water from the Johor River is suitable for treatment before resuming abstractions and operations. During such temporary disruptions, PUB steps up production at desalination plants and local waterworks to meet Singapore’s demand.

6. Nevertheless, pollution incidents along the Johor River impact the water supply of both countries, and remain a serious concern. 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.

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