What are the Water Agreements?
The State of Johore and the City Council of Singapore signed two long-term Water Agreements.
The first Water Agreement was signed in 1961 and expired in August 2011. Under this Agreement, Singapore was entitled to draw an unrestricted quantity of raw water from the Tebrau and Scudai Rivers. In return, the agreement stipulated that Singapore would provide Johor with treated water amounting to 12% of the water that we had imported. When the 1961 Water Agreement expired on 31 August 2011, Singapore handed the Johor State government the Gunong Pulai and Scudai waterworks as well as the pump houses at Pontian and Tebrau which we had been operating and maintaining at our own cost. These facilities were handed to them free of charge and in good working order.
[Chairman of PUB Tan Gee Paw (seated, left of picture) and Johor State Secretary Obet Tawil (seated, right of picture) signed the documents to hand over the Gunong Pulai and Scudai waterworks as well as the pump houses at Pontian and Tebrau to the Johor State government on 31 August 2011. These facilities were handed over free of charge and in good working order. Looking on (from left) are Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources and Information, Communication and the Arts Grace Fu, Johor Menteri Besar Dato’ Abdul Ghani Othman, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Sultan of Johor His Royal Highness Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, and the Tunku Mahkota of Johor His Royal Highness Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim.]
The second Water Agreement was signed in 1962 and will expire in 2061. It entitles Singapore to draw and use the water from the Johor River up to a maximum of 250 million gallons of raw water per day. In return, we provide Johor with treated water up to 2% of the water we import. PUB draws water from the Johor River and treats the water at the Johor River Waterworks located near Kota Tinggi in Johor. The water we import from Johor is one of our “Four National Taps”.
Why are the Water Agreements so important?
The Water Agreements were guaranteed by the Government of Malaysia in the Separation Agreement signed in 1965 that established Singapore as an independent and sovereign state. The guarantee was also enacted into the Malaysian Constitution by an Act of Parliament. The Malaysian Constitution was annexed to the Separation Agreement. The Separation Agreement was registered with the United Nations.
Both countries have to honour the terms of the Water Agreements and the guarantee in the Separation Agreement. Neither Singapore nor Malaysia can unilaterally change them. Any breach of the Water Agreements would call into question the sanctity of the Water Agreements and the Separation Agreement, and can undermine Singapore’s very existence.
What is Linggiu Reservoir?
In 1990, PUB and the Johor State government signed an agreement to construct Linggiu Reservoir to increase the yield of the Johor River to enable reliable abstraction of PUB’s full entitlement to 250 million gallons per day of water. This agreement supplemented the 1962 Water Agreement.
Linggiu Reservoir is a regulatory reservoir. During periods of dry weather or high tide, more seawater backs up along the Johor River. Rainwater collected in the Linggiu Reservoir is released into the Johor River, pushing the seawater back, enabling the reliable abstraction of raw water from the Johor River.
Singapore paid for the construction of the Reservoir and paid the Johor State government for the use of the land to build the Reservoir.
Water Talks (1998 - 2003)
From 1998 to 2003, Singapore and Malaysia were engaged in a period of difficult negotiations over a number of issues which included the price of water. A succinct account of the negotiations can be found in a statement made by Minister for Foreign Affairs Professor S Jayakumar to Parliament on 23 January 2003, and in this publication.
Briefly, in 1998, Singapore and Malaysia began negotiations on a “framework of wider cooperation”. During the 1998 Financial Crisis, Malaysia wanted financial loans to support its currency; Singapore suggested that Malaysia give its assurance for a long-term supply of water to Singapore. Malaysia eventually had no need for the loans. Negotiations turned to other matters of mutual interest. In particular, Malaysia wanted joint development of more land parcels in Singapore in return for relocating its railway station away from Tanjong Pagar.
Over the next three years, more items were bundled together to form a negotiated package, where both sides asked for and offered various concessions on several outstanding bilateral issues. One of the items added by Malaysia was a higher price for the water it sold to Singapore.
Singapore’s position has consistently been that neither Malaysia nor Singapore can unilaterally change the prices of raw water and treated water specified in the Water Agreements. Under the Water Agreements, Singapore pays Johor 3 sen per thousand gallons of raw water and Johor pays Singapore 50 sen per thousand gallons of treated water. 50 sen is only a fraction of the true cost to Singapore of treating the water, which includes building and maintaining the entire infrastructure of the water purification plants. The Water Agreements provided for a price review after 25 years. This would have been in 1986 for the 1961 Water Agreement and in 1987 for the 1962 Water Agreement. Malaysia chose not to review the price of water then. Malaysia has therefore lost its right to review the price of water.
While we tried to negotiate on terms acceptable to both sides, Malaysia kept changing its negotiating positions on the package of items. On water, Malaysia’s asking price kept increasing throughout the negotiations. It increased from 45 sen per thousand gallons in August 2000, to 60 sen in February 2001, to RM6.25 in September 2002.
Finally, in October 2002, Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad told Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong that Malaysia wanted to “decouple the water issue” from the other items in the package. Prime Minister Goh told Prime Minister Mahathir that since Malaysia wanted to discontinue the package approach, Singapore would have to deal with water and the other issues on their stand-alone merits.
Do we still import water from Johor?
Yes. Under the 1962 Water Agreement, we continue to draw up to 250 million gallons of raw water per day from the Johor River. In return, we provide Malaysia with a daily supply of treated water up to 2% (or 5 mgd) of the water supplied to Singapore. Over the years, PUB has, at Johor’s request, supplied additional potable water to Johor, including during periods of severe and prolonged drought in Johor. The additional potable water is supplied to Johor on a goodwill basis and without prejudice to our rights under the 1962 Water Agreement.
Cooperation between agencies
PUB and its counterpart in Johor, Badan Kawalselia Air Johor (BAKAJ), enjoy a strong working relationship. PUB and BAKAJ meet regularly and hold useful discussions on current weather trends, the water levels at various reservoirs and dams in Johor, and water resource development plans. PUB and BAKAJ also cooperate closely on the Johor River Barrage project, which will help prevent salinity intrusions and increase the reliability of water supply from the Johor River, thus benefitting both Singapore and Johor.
Publication -Water Talks? – If Only It Could - Link
Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in the Singapore Parliament (9 July 2018) - Link
Statement by Professor S Jayakumar, Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs, in the Singapore Parliament on Jan 25, 2003 - Link
Recent Press Releases
MFA Spokesperson’s Comments in Response to Media Queries on Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Comments to Bloomberg dated 25 June 2018 with respect to the 1962 Water Agreement - Link
Singapore to Supply Additional Potable Water to Johor (17 July 2016) - Link
Joint Media Statement of the Inaugural KeTTHA-MEWR Joint Committee Meeting (12 July 2016)- Link
Singapore to Supply Additional Potable Water to Johor (6 June 2016) - Link
MEWR COS 2016 – Update on the situation at Linggiu Reservoir (12 April 2016) - Link
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli’s introductory visit to Malaysia (25 February 2016) - Link
Singapore to supply additional potable water to Johor during its water rationing (20 August 2015) - Link
Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam's Reply to a Parliamentary Question on the status of the land assessment tax to PUB’s Johor River Waterworks (18 August 2015) - Link
Transcript of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s and Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Remarks at the Joint Press Conference for the 6th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat (5 May 2015) - Link
Joint Statement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Prime Minister Najib Razak at the Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat in Singapore (5 May 2015) - Link
Oral Answer to Questions by Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr K Shanmugam: Price of Raw Water from Malaysia (6 March 2014) - Link