This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on February 15, 2021 - February 21, 2021
Water is not only the key to life but a critical ingredient for social and economic development. Without proper sanitation, sewerage and clean water supply, our daily life risks being severely disturbed. So how do we protect freshwater resources and how do we find ways to ensure reliable water supply?
Many Danish companies have spent decades developing expertise in the water sector. Successive Danish governments have sought solutions to address our country’s limited natural resources. This task has been greatly aided by a close collaboration between multiple stakeholders — private as well as public, research institutes and business, resulting in many Danish companies being at the forefront of research, technology development and “best practices” in integrated water management, urban drainage, water supply and wastewater treatment.
Currently, the average rate of non-revenue water (NRW) in Malaysia is reportedly at about 35%. This compares with 7% in Denmark, one of the lowest in the world. For almost 30 years, water utilities in Denmark with a water loss of more than 10% have had to pay a penalty fee to the state. In addition, all properties connected to public water utilities are obliged to install smart water meters to provide more reliable data on real losses (leakages) as well as apparent losses (metering inaccuracies and unmetered consumption).
Many Danish companies are already working in Malaysia — from reducing NRW from 45% to 30% in Kelantan, using solutions for tapping saddles, repair clamps and valves, to reducing NRW from 38% to 20% in just 18 months in Seremban. The Seremban project included the installation of an NRW management system, a leakage monitoring and repair system, targeted meter replacement programme, detection and repair of over 3,000 leaks, installing a geographical information system, hydraulic modelling, installation of 55 District Metering Areas and 20 pressure control zones.
Water leakage is a challenge for many water utility companies. Often, optimising water pressure in the distribution network in accordance with demand can stem high water pressure. With Danish-designed pumps paving the way for stable water pressure, these can help limit “wear and tear” and help reduce burst pipes.
Installing smart water meters that use ultrasonic technology, which integrate acoustic leak detection, can help locate leakages quickly in the service connections and distribution lines. This is in addition to feeding into an analytical system platform that empowers the utility providers to have the right knowledge immediately, enabling the reduction of NRW for the benefit of the environment, consumers and the water companies’ bottom line.
Surface water resources, streams and rivers contribute to about 90% of the total water consumption in Malaysia; only 10% is from groundwater. Surface water, however, is easily exposed to contamination. Furthermore, climate change has affected global rainfall patterns and, according to experts, there is about 100 times more groundwater on earth than fresh surface water. Hence, it makes sense to utilise groundwater as an additional source of water.
Mapping of groundwater therefore becomes essential. As an example, airborne electromagnetic surveys designed by a Danish company have helped detect five million cubic metres of previously undetected groundwater in the Platte River area in Western Nebraska, in the US. This is not only an important tool to predict the level of groundwater deposits and evaluate the best locations for new sustainable drilling sites, it also identifies leaking pumps, thereby contributing to reduction of NRW.
There have been discussions among water stakeholders in Malaysia that the current water tariff rates in many states are low and do not reflect the actual cost of providing water supply services to consumers. Based on our experience, a financially sustainable utility can help ensure funds are readily available to cover operation and maintenance costs, while addressing the needs of the public, to establish a solid foundation for steady development.
Often the business model is very simple: allowing for implementation of water development projects through savings in energy costs and water leakages. This enables water utility companies to fix NRW issues and achieve water savings with a short payback time.
Kirsten Rosenvold Geelan is the ambassador of Denmark to Malaysia
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