Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat

Singapore raises concerns over supply of water from Johor River

Pollution of river and its long-term sustainable yield among worries

Singapore has raised its concerns to Malaysia over pollution of the Johor River as well as its long-term yield, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

It is in both countries' interests to work together to ensure a sustainable water supply, he added.

PM Lee was speaking at a news conference with his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad at Perdana Putra after they met and discussed various matters, including water, at the Leaders' Retreat.

He noted that national water agency PUB's waterworks at Kota Tinggi, Johor, had to shut down last week because of high ammonia levels. A reservoir at a bio-composite centre next to a palm oil refinery in Sedenak had burst, causing ammonia-contaminated water to flow into the Sayong River - one of the creeks that supply raw water to the Johor River.

Singapore's water supply was not affected, but the incident disrupted water supply to about 17,000 households in Kulai.

Last month, the illegal dumping of chemical substances into Sungai Kim Kim in Pasir Gudang gave rise to toxic fumes that affected thousands of residents.

"If the Johor River suffers an incident like that which happened at Sungai Kim Kim recently, I think it will be disastrous for both countries," said PM Lee.

The other concern Singapore has is the long-term sustainable yield of the Johor River, he said, noting that Johor has built water plants on the river, upstream of PUB's waterworks at Kota Tinggi.


The combined amount these plants draw may well exceed the river's sustainable yield, he said, highlighting the need to study how to meet both Johor's and Singapore's water requirements for the remainder of the 1962 Water Agreement.

Under the agreement, Singapore can draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of raw water from Johor at a price of three sen per 1,000 gallons. It is obliged to supply 5 mgd of treated water to Johor, but has been supplying more at Johor's request.


It is an issue that we have to work at together because if there is not enough water in the Johor River, it is not only a practical problem for both sides, it is also a political problem for both sides.


In an interview with Singapore media to wrap up his visit yesterday, PM Lee reiterated that both countries have to work together to ensure the Johor River can provide sufficient water for both sides.

"It is a serious problem. It is an issue that we have to work at together because if there is not enough water in the Johor River, it is not only a practical problem for both sides, it is also a political problem for both sides," he said.

"The Malaysians understand this, and they have recognised that this is something which they need to act on together with us, and we look forward to working with them on that."

He noted that some steps have been taken which have made a big difference, citing the Linggiu Dam which was built to increase the yield of the Johor River so Singapore can reliably get its full entitlement of 250 mgd daily. The agreement to build the dam was signed in 1990, during Tun Dr Mahathir's first term as prime minister.


PM Lee added that Malaysia had agreed to build a barrage at Kota Tinggi a few years ago to prevent seawater from intruding upstream and affecting Singapore's waterworks.

"That has helped, but it is not enough because Johor continues to develop, their population grows, their economy grows. They want more water, and we can see the difficulties coming in future and therefore we have to work at it again, which we will," he said.

During the news conference, Dr Mahathir said resolving the longstanding issue of water price review is a priority for Malaysia. Since returning to power last May, he has regularly called for the water price to be raised.

Dr Mahathir said both leaders have agreed to find amicable solutions on this issue, including the possibility of dispute resolution through arbitration on a mutually agreed basis.

PM Lee said both leaders agreed that their respective attorneys-general should continue their dialogue and understand each other's perspectives and concerns. The foreign ministers from both countries will oversee this issue.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2019, with the headline 'Singapore raises concerns over supply of water from Johor River'. Print Edition | Subscribe