Penangites are big consumers of water. The average person uses 286 litres of water each day, 37% above the national average of 209 litres. The cheap water rates no doubt contribute to this. Consumers pay only 32 sen per 1,000 litres for the first 35,000 litres (or 35 cubic metres) of treated water. In Johor, the rate is RM1.05 per 1,000 litres.
But the days of cheap water may be coming to an end. Penang has become a water-stressed territory.
A total of 80% of its supply comes from the Sungai Muda basin in Kedah. However, logging activities inside the water catchment area of Ulu Muda is threatening the supply. If left unchecked, Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) chief executive officer Jaseni Maidinsa says, the supply from Sungai Muda will dry up within three years.
Another factor is climate change. Droughts are lasting longer, Jaseni says. But when it rains, it is a deluge, causing floods in low-lying areas.
“How I wish we had the capacity to store the additional water from heavy rainfall,” he laments. But to achieve that, more dams will have to be built. Apart from the huge financial cost, damage to the environment caused by such projects can also be severe.