September 27, 2010
In Malaysia, where water is in abundant supply (most times, anyway) and the cost of water is relatively cheap, most people don’t think twice about taking long, leisurely showers or washing their cars daily.
On the other hand, in countries where drought is a serious recurring problem, like Australia which has been dubbed the driest inhabited continent, water conservation is necessary for survival. As a result, in dry times, the Australian Government enforces water restrictions on its citizens.
During one particularly bad drought, recalls Goh Soon Sinn who is executive chairman and chief executive officer of Waterco Australia, people weren’t allowed to wash their cars with running water from the hose.
“We had to use a bucket and wipe our cars clean with a cloth. Car wash facilities were required, by law, to use only recycled water,” shares Goh who is currently based in Kuala Lumpur, the company’s base for Far East operations.
Coming from Australia, it isn’t at all surprising that Goh is prudent about water consumption at the Waterco plant in Sungai Buloh, Selangor, where there is in place a rain harvesting and conservation system. The RM120000 investment can allow up to a 75% savings on water consumption- a considerable saving for the company and the environment.
With the system, rainwater is collected in two huge roof tanks through a catchment system of gutters and pipes. The tanks are covered to prevent contamination and algae growth, as well as to avoid water loss via evaporation. The water from the tank is then filtered and channeled to a huge underground storage tank which Goh says is the size of a “motel-sized swimming pool”- it can store up to 94.5 cu.m of water.
“Rainwater harvesting is not new but it hasn’t really been looked at in this country where there is plenty of rainfall. We felt, however, that water is a huge resource to be tapped and so when we built this facility, we built a huge underground tank which we could use to store rainwater. We use it to flush toilets, water our garden, clean our equipment and fill up the cooling towers (for the air-conditioning). We don’t use the water for drinking (because it would have to be treated first) but th and is reasonably fresh,” explains Goh.
He adds that rainwater harvesting also reduces the volume of storm water, which can cause flooding.
Australian company Waterco manufactures swimming pool and spa equipment, water filters, softeners and purifiers as well as commercial and aquaculture water treatment equipment.
As Malaysia is blessed with constant rain-fall, Goh says harvested rain water has accounted for up to 40% of Waterco’s total water consumption.
“The amount of water we use here is very large. An average household uses 40 cu.m of water. We use 904 cu.m which is equivalent to 22 households. We are fortunate we have plenty of rainfall in Malaysia. Even on months when there was little rainfall, we managed to collect enough rainwater to account for 40% of our consumption,” he says, adding that they hope to increase the use of rainwater to 60%.
When the storage tank reaches a critical low point and the rainwater supply is low. Automatic sensors in the rooftop storage tank will detect this and water is topped up from the Water Department (JBA) supply.
Although the harvesting system has translated into savings for the company, he explains that most companies would not consider putting in place a rainwater harvesting system in their facilities as it is not economically feasible.
“The payback is slow. If you are talking about a three-year payback then yes, people will be interested. But it’s more like a 10-year payback. It’s not economical because water is cheap here.
“We did it as part of our efforts to be green we are in the water business and we believe in conservation wherever and whenever possible. Water conservation is not fashionable..It’s here to stay, it’s something we have to think about and do. In Australia, there isn’t a drought now so the water restrictions have been lifted but the practice of water conservation lingers. It has become a way of life now,” says Goh.
Waterco does not “sell” rainwater harvesting systems though.
“We have the filters and the equipment but we don’t consult on setting up a harvesting system. We can, however, share our experience and knowledge with those who are interested,” says Goh.
He says that rainwater harvesting systems can also be installed in homes. “For homes, you need a basic system…an outdoor tank, piping and filters which will come up to about RM3000 and you can probably expect payback in three to five years.
“If you want to install an underwater storage tank, of course the cost will go up but it’s not necessary. You need a simple tank but a proper one as you don’t want sediment or any other residues to form,” he warns.
Alternatively, households can collect water the age-old way, like how it’s done in villages: by putting out buckets or old drums when it rains and using the water for the garden or to flush toilets.
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