Malaysia: El Nino taking a toll on Bukit Merah despite cloud seeding

CHRISTOPHER TAN The Star 22 Apr 16;

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KERIAN: El Nino has claimed a 4,000ha dam here, which is also part of the tourist spot – the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort – even as planes continue to seed clouds to battle the drought in the northern region.

The Bukit Merah Dam has less than 6m of water at its deepest point and only has 14% left despite having a catchment area of 480 sq km.

More than two-thirds of what was once the lake’s surface is now a desolate landscape of once-sun­ken tree stumps.

“It has been raining most evenings and nights recently from cloud seeding, but it did little to raise the dam level.

“The lake had lost too much water,” said state Energy and Water Committee chairman Datuk Zainol Fadzi Paharudin yesterday.

Rain gauges on Wednesday night, he added, showed only a gain of 2mm.

Stumped: Dead trees that used to be underwater can be seen due to the drying Bukit Merah Dam in Kerian. — ASRI ABDUL GHANI/The Star
Stumped: Dead trees that used to be underwater can be seen due to the drying Bukit Merah Dam in Kerian. — ASRI ABDUL GHANI/The Star
Since April 11, the Royal Malay­sian Air Force and Science, Technology and Innovation Minis­try had sent planes laden with fine salt to stimulate clouds over dams in Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Malacca and Negri Sembilan.

Meanwhile, padi farmers are incurring massive losses because what water was left can no longer reach the dam’s release gates to irrigate their fields.

They are now appealing for financial subsistence from the Federal Government through Perak Farmers Organisation chairman Datuk Seri Dr Raja Ahmad Zainuddin Raja Omar, who said that they had lost at least RM8mil because of the stalled planting season.

Hundreds of arowana fish ponds, visible along the North-South Highway beside Bukit Merah Lake, are now holding their fish stocks worth hundreds of thousands of ringgit per farm in stagnant pools because they hardly have water to refresh their ponds.

Also suffering is Bukit Merah Laketown Resort. Though it is still operating, most of the lake activities have stopped.

Boatman Mohd Yusof Shamsuri, 58, said the Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island had been closed for two weeks.

“Our passenger boats are just sitting on the lake’s bed at the end of the jetty,” he said.

Dam-pened spirits: An aerial view of the dried up lake in Bukit Merah Laketown Resort in Kerian. — Drone photography by Se Vena Networks
Dam-pened spirits: An aerial view of the dried up lake in Bukit Merah Laketown Resort in Kerian. — Drone photography by Se Vena Networks
Sungai Kurau, which pours into the lake from the west and exits again at the east, still manages a weak flow of muddy water.

But life for fishermen in Kampung Selamat, a village of 130 homes in the southern end of the lake, has come to a grinding halt because the water is completely gone.

Villager Shamsudin Mohammad, 66, said that the lake started drying up in December.

“We get a dry season yearly, but this is the worst I have seen since staying here in 1960.

“What used to be a perfect place to catch fish is now no more,” he said.

Besides Bukit Merah dam, infokemarau.water.gov.my also lists two other dams as being in the danger zone.

Bukit Merah Lake in Kerian, Perak, where the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort is located, standing high and dry after most of the lake dried up due to El Nino. - ASRI ABDUL GHANI/The Star
Bukit Merah Lake in Kerian, Perak, where the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort is located, standing high and dry after most of the lake dried up due to El Nino.
Bukit Kwong Dam in Kelantan has only 7.81% of its water left and Labong Dam in Johor has only 11.98% .

But the situation is different in the Klang Valley as the parks mana­gement are not worried about potential water shortage.

Desa Water Park manager David Wan said they had storage tanks to provide enough water for the park to run for at least two to three days during a water crisis.

Sunway Lagoon marketing director Michelle Gregory said there was no threat of water shortage as the park’s water supply came directly from the lake and was not at all dependent on outside sources.

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