Overcoming Challenges to Water Reuse

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LIMITED ENGINEERING AND social feasibility still hinder many countries, especially in the Global South, from fully implementing urban water reuse. Ideally, urban water reuse schemes are economically viable, environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing; they discourage water losses, long-distance wastewater transfer, high energy usage and emissions from wastewater treatment.

The average daily water consumption in most Malaysian states stands at 230 litres per capita (LCD), reports the National Water Services Commission1. This use is excessive when compared to the daily water requirement stipulated by the UN, which is estimated at only 165 LCD. Pipe leakage, storage reservoir overflows and water theft contribute to water loss, but so do low water tariffs. In fact, the water tariff in some states has remained constant for over 20 years,2 with Malaysians paying an average price of only RM0.52 per m³ of treated water. This is considerably low compared to neighbouring countries such as the Philippines (RM2 per m³ of water) and Singapore (RM4 per m³ of water). But for a variety of reasons, heavily developed areas such as the Klang Valley often face water disruption, scheduled or otherwise, inconveniencing households and businesses despite its location in a high rainfall region.

Read also: Discovering Penang Through Its Rich Biodiversity

Serious efforts to conserve water in recent years have led to the promotion of rainwater harvesting and water reuse, besides a review of the water tariff. Incentives were also introduced to encourage the use of green technology in various industries under the Income Tax Act 19673. Investment Tax Allowance (ITA) and Income Tax Exemption (ITE) can be applied if a business invests in projects that promote environmental sustainability or provides green services that support investment in green projects, respectively.

Eligible companies seeking to apply for ITA can receive up to 100% of Qualifying Capital Expenditure incurred from the date of application received by the Malaysian Investment Development Authority until the end of 2020. The promoted projects include commercial or industrial buildings that have been awarded green building certificates. The green building assessment covers water efficiency, focusing on water harvesting and recycling, and increased efficiency4. Companies involved in design and constancy, and the testing and commissioning of green building equipment or system are eligible to apply for ITE of up to 100% of statutory income.

However, the uptake of water reuse initiatives in existing residential areas is slow; retrofitting and investment costs are difficulties that are not easily vaulted over. Besides, a lack of awareness and education on the importance of water conservation still persists within the community. For its advocacy to be successful, it is incumbent upon local municipal councils to expose residents to the importance of water-saving and the advantages of water reuse. Some of the more active councils in Malaysia are the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ)5 and Kuala Lumpur City Hall. Within their jurisdictions, it is mandatory for rainwater harvesting systems to be installed in new homes. MBPJ also offers a community grant – the PJ SEED – to enable stakeholders, residents’ associations, joint management bodies and non-governmental organisations to implement projects in improving sustainability of the area.

SARS-CoV-2 has also raised concerns of the virus’ presence in wastewaters across the world6, 7, 8. There is urgency to adopt new technologies to meet user needs; to lock in place mechanisms and practices to monitor the frequency of the virus; and determine ways to clear it from the whole water cycle, e.g. from the water drainage and supply systems, their fittings (plumbing etc.) and supply chains to ensure that the water is safe and sustainable for reuse.

To meet the complex challenges identified, an interdisciplinary methodology is needed. By integrating the strategic planning of water reuse interventions with socio-technical approaches and collaboration with relevant stakeholders, a holistic framework to support decision-makers can lead to effective strategic planning. A more calibrated approach balancing planning and governance, as well as design and technology, can address the diverse needs of various communities.

1https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2020/05/15/water-consumption-goes-up
2
https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/02/01/span-watertariff-review-long-overdue/1718919/
3
https://www.greenbuildingindex.org/Files/Resources/20170726%20-%20New%20Tax%20Incentive%20For%20Green%20Buildings%20Seminar/4.0%20Tax%20Incentives%20For%20Green%20Technology%20Industry%20-%20MIDA.pdf  4https://www.greenbuildingindex.org/Files/Resources/GBI%20Tools/GBI%20NREB%20Data%20Centre%20Tool%20V1.0.pdf
5https://www.thestar.com.my/news/community/2012/11/03/rainwater-harvesting-for-homes
6
Adelodun, B., Ajibade, F. O., Ibrahim, R. G., Bakare, H. O., & Choi, K.S. (2020). Snowballing transmission of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) through wastewater: Any sustainable preventive measures to curtail the scourge in low-income countries?. Science of the Total Environment, 140680.
7El Baz, S., & Imziln, B. (2020). Can Aerosols and Wastewater be Considered as Potential Transmissional Sources of COVID-19 to Humans?. European Journal of Environment and Public Health, 4(2) em0047.
8Street, R., Malema, S., Mahlangeni, N., & Mathee, A. (2020). COVID-19 wastewater surveillance: An African perspective. Science of the Total Environment, 140719.



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