Taps run dry for 1.8m Johor residents

High ammonia levels found in raw water from Johor River lead to 3 treatment plants shutting

JOHOR BARU • The water supply to about 1.8 million residents in southern Johor has been disrupted after three treatment plants were shut down because of high ammonia levels found in raw water from Johor River.

Operations at the three facilities - the Semangar, Sungai Johor and Tai Hong water treatment plants - stopped yesterday after a high level of ammonia was recorded, said The Star daily.

In a statement, utility company SAJ Ranhill said residents in at least three districts - namely, Johor Baru, Kulai and Kota Tinggi - were affected by the shutdown.

SAJ (Syarikat Air Johor) was established in February 1994 as a state government company. It is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Ranhill Utilities, with an exclusive concession to treat, supply and distribute water to consumers in Johor for a 30-year period from March 1, 2000.

SAJ Ranhill corporate communications head Jamaluddin Jamal said the ammonia level of 2.75 parts per million (ppm) recorded late last Friday night had not reduced as of 4.30pm yesterday. The level is much higher than the Health Ministry's permitted level of 1.5ppm.

"Water quality is our priority, thus we decided to halt operations to treat raw water from the river.

"This is not the first time high levels of ammonia have disrupted water supply. We have recorded three major incidents this year alone," Mr Jamaluddin said in the statement yesterday.

He added that the situation could be prolonged if the ammonia levels do not drop.

"We urge the public not to panic and to use water wisely," he said.

In July last year, Singapore supplied an additional six million gallons of water a day to Malaysia after Johor's water regulatory body, Badan Kawalselia Air Johor, made an "urgent request" to Singapore water agency PUB following the shutdown of its supply system in JB due to pollution in the Johor River.

The extra amount of treated water was supplied by the PUB-operated Johor River Waterworks.

The Star reported at the time that effluents discharged from a palm oil mill had been identified as the main source of high ammonia content in the Johor River, which in turn caused the operations of three water treatment plants in Johor to stop, affecting some 600,000 users in the southern parts of Johor.

PUB is entitled to draw 250 million gallons of raw water daily from the Johor River under the 1962 Water Agreement with Malaysia, which expires in 2061.

In exchange, Singapore is obliged to sell five million gallons of treated water to Johor each day. However, PUB has been regularly providing Johor with up to 16 million gallons of water on a daily basis.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 29, 2017, with the headline 'Taps run dry for 1.8m Johor residents'. Print Edition | Subscribe