Malaysia: Massive water crisis threatens nation

NEVILLE SPYKERMAN, RUBEN SARIO, T. AVINESHWARAN, MOHD FARHAAN SHAH, TEOH XIU JONG, ONG HAN SEAN, R.S.N. MURALI, ZAZALI MUSA, LO TERN CHERN, and G.C. TAN
The Star 16 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: First, the prolonged dry spell, and now a potentially massive water crisis ahead as the country faces the full impact of El Nino.

The National Water Services Commission (SPAN) has raised the alarm bells, warning that not enough was being done to conserve water.

Rivers are drying up and dam levels are dropping acutely by the day.

SPAN chief executive Datuk Mohd Ridhuan Ismail said urgent measures were needed to remind the public to stop wasting and start conserving water.

The prolonged hot and dry spell is impacting different parts of the country in different ways.

The worst hit will be 85,000 domestic and industrial consumers in parts of Johor when rationing starts on Monday.

Output from four water treatment plants in the Kota Tinggi and Mersing districts have reached critical levels.

During the exercise, water supply will run normally for one day in the affected areas while there will be no water supply for the next two days.

In Pahang, Pengurusan Air Pahang Bhd (PAIP) said there was a need to start looking for alternative sources of water, including from wells.

This comes after the water level at rivers in Pahang dropped drastically, making it difficult for treatment plants in three districts to get raw water.

More than 7,000 account holders in Lipis, Pekan and Temerloh are facing supply disruptions.

In Malacca, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron said the state will have to consider water rationing if the dry spell continues.

For now, there is enough water in all three major dams.

Up north, near the Perak-Thai border, an entire lake has all but “disappeared”.

The man-made Tasik Takong, in the Takong Recreational Park, used to be popular spot for anglers, picnickers and tourists.

In Rantau Panjang, Sungai Golok which divides Kelantan and Thailand is now easier to cross without the need for any travel documents.

Dry weather has turned the river into a stream and some parts of the river can be walked across.

In Kangar, cows were seen grazing in the Timah Tasoh Dam which saw water levels dipping below the critical level.

A village road submerged when the dam was built over two decades ago is now usable again.

In Sabah, villagers on Banggi Island have resorted to digging into dry riverbeds while others are relying on wells and springs which are also drying up.

Penang’s state-owned water corporation – PBA Holdings Bhd – urged the Federal Government to instruct all water authorities to stop irrigation of padi fields, especially in the northern region, until the rains return.

PBA Holdings chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa said the extraordinary move was needed to counter the effects of what he described as a “super drought”.

Jaseni said the water of the Muda River in Kedah was too precious to be used in the thousands of hectares of padi fields in Kedah and Penang.


Manage water carefully, SPAN urges users
The Star 16 Apr 16;

PETALING JAYA: Manage your water very carefully from now before the situation turns critical. This is the advice to all state governments from the National Water Services Commission (SPAN).

It wants state governments to take steps to secure water for both consumption and irrigation, instead of waiting for a supply crisis.

The call came as an expert warned that the recent scattered afternoon rains, which accompanied the inter-monsoon season, were not enough to mitigate the impact of the El Nino weather phenomenon on the country.

SPAN chief executive Datuk Mohd Ridhuan Ismail said regardless of water levels in their dams, all states needed policies to get the public to conserve the resource.

He singled out Penang’s rigid no-rationing policy, which he said was not helping but compounding the problem.

Mohd Ridhuan pointed out that he was from Penang and was not criticising the state for the sake of it.

He added that the almost free water rates enjoyed by the public in Penang also sent the wrong message to consumers and did not promote conservation.

“It may be good for consumers there in the short term, but these policies can stress the state’s water supply,” he said.

He added that the no-rationing policy could mean Penang was not equipped with an adequate number of water tankers should there be a crisis.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said on Thursday that the state’s dams were getting drier by the hour due to El Nino and there would be a water crisis in two months if the rains did not come soon.

Mohd Ridhuan said water rationing scheduled to start in parts of Johor on Monday could be delayed if heavy rains fell over the weekend.

But he said consumers in Kota Tinggi and Mersing must still be prepared for water rationing.

SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd is due to start scheduled water rationing to 85,000 domestic and industrial consumers in the Kota Tinggi and Mersing districts, starting from April 18 until May 15.

SPAN is also concerned with the dwindling water level in the Timah Tasoh dam in Perlis, which had only 15.7% of effective storage. The dam is used for both water supply and irrigation.

Over in Pahang, water treatment plants in Temerloh, Lipis and Chini were not operating at full capacity due to the reduction of raw water from rivers.

Consumers in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, however, have no cause for concern yet.

Air Selangor corporate communications head Amin Lin Abdullah said the water situation in Selangor was stable and all water treatment plants were fully operational.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Climatology and Oceano­graphy Prof Dr Fredolin Tangang said parts of Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah were still expected to be affected by the drought and hot weather.

He said the scattered afternoon rainfall as a result of the inter-monsoon season had not been enough to mitigate the impact of El Nino.

“Generally, I think there is still lack of moisture in the region because of the El Nino effect,” he said.

Dr Fredolin expects the weather to be back to normal in June.


Hot spell reduces Sg Golok to a stream
The Star 16 Apr 16;

RANTAU PANJANG: The El Nino effect in this district is so severe that it has reduced Sungai Golok to a stream.

The river divides Kelantan and Thailand and it is now especially easy for those wanting to cross the border without a passport to do so.

In fact, it is even possible in some spots to do that without getting your feet wet.

“This is the worst of the hot seasons to have happened here, and for residents to see a river turn into a mere stream, it is unreal for them,” said restaurant owner Mokhtar Ismail, 61.

“This has never happened before to the extent that one can cross the river without even getting their shoes wet.

“We are seeing the worst of this river, which must be at its lowest ebb in over 20 years,” added Mokhtar, who runs a restaurant at Chabang Tiga here.

He said conditions in the river during the dry season also posed a danger, being similar to low tide – the sand in some parts is like quicksand.

“It may look harmless and shallow but the sand is swirling underneath,” added Mokhtar, who said children had been known to drown in such conditions.

Boat operator Zailani Ibrahim, 44, who charges RM1 to ferry passengers between Thailand and Kelantan, said he had never seen the river turn into a stream before.

This year’s dry season, he added, was very long compared with previous years.

“I lost my whole income for the month. It is also not possible to anchor my boats here so I have anchored them about 1km from here,” he said.

“If this continues for the next two or three months, I will have to find another job to feed my family,” said Zailani, who is one of the 60 boat operators along the 34km river.

Meanwhile, it is understood that Bukit Kong, a dam built to supply water for agricultural purposes, is becoming popular with the locals as its level has dropped tremendously.

People go to the dam daily to enjoy a swim in the shallow waters.


Man-made lake near Thai border dries up
The Star 16 Apr 16;

GRIK: A 4ha lake near the Perak-Thai border has dried up, possibly becoming the first “lake casualty” of El Nino in the country.

Takong Lake, in the heart of Pengkalan Hulu, a rural town about 45km from here and 7km from the border, has only a rivulet of water remaining while the rest of the lake bed has become an expanse of mud-cracks.

This man-made lake is in the Takong Recreational Park, which is a local haunt of anglers, picnickers and tourists who rent paddle boats.

In January, Pengkalan Hulu assemblyman Aznel Ibrahim announced plans to create a floating market on the lake by August to match the one in Haadyai.

It is learnt that after the lake shrunk drastically, the local authority further drained it 10 days ago to let locals catch the fish in it.

A resident, who only identified himself as Rosli, said townfolk and Thai visitors came by the thousands and caught hundreds of kilos of freshwater fish like tilapia, carps, common snakeheads (haruan), catfish, jungle perches (sebarau) and freshwater prawns (udang galah) using nets, pails and even bare hands.

“We call it Pesta Gagau and the last time we did it was four years ago, when the lake had also dried up,” said Rosli.

In Kangar, the bed of the Timah Tasoh Dam is so parched that cows are grazing there.

A tarred village road that was submerged when the state’s only dam was completed in 1992 is now usable again. As of yesterday, the Perlis dam water level would only need to go down by 0.2m before a full blown crisis hits.

“The level is now 26.2m. When it hits 26m, we will alert the state government and Syarikat Air Perlis to start water rationing,” said state Drainage & Irrigation Department director Najib Abdullah yesterday.

He said plans were in motion to start water rationing in certain areas today, adding that Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azlan Man was expected to announce it.

The dam’s maximum level is 29.1m, and although it is still about 90% full now, the lake is so small its critical level is 25m.

When The Star visited the dam, motorcyclist Nor Hisham Jusof, 34, was spotted riding along the previously submerged road with a friend.

“Word that this road has resurfaced is spreading. So I rode out here to check it out. I’ll come back again to go fishing. In a drought, it’s easy to catch lake fish,” he said.


Rains in Sabah ensuring dependable supply of water
The Star 16 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Rains over many parts of Sabah in the past week have assured a sufficient water supply, particularly for the state’s west coast.

The rains since April 9 increased levels at the Babagon dam and Sungai Moyog in Penampang, said Sabah Water Department deputy director Teo Chee Kang.

He added that the water level at the dam had risen to 112.1m from 111.7m in recent days.

“We are still far away from the lowest level of 102m at the height of the drought in 1998,” Teo said in an interview.

He said the higher water level at Sungai Moyog has enabled the department to increase its raw water intake there from 75 million litres to about 100 million litres per day.

Teo said together with the 120 million litres daily from the dam, water production was now at 215 million litres per day, sufficient for the state capital, Penampang and its surrounding areas.

“We anticipate more rainfall in May. We are quite confident that we have enough water to see us through until June when this dry spell is expected to end,” he added.


Desperate situation persists for islanders
The Star 16 Apr 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Desperate islanders at the parched northernmost island of Banggi are digging into riverbeds to get water even as supplies are reaching the island.

Islanders at remote villages such as Kampung Pangkalan Darat and Kampung Lok Tohog, about 20km from Banggi’s main settlement of Karakit, have had to find their own water supply.

As a result, some have resorted to digging a dried-out riverbed and begun pumping whatever water available there.

Banggi islander Salma Marail said there was still no rain on the island and water supply from Kudat was only available at the Water Department’s makeshift depot at Karakit.

“To get the water, we need to have a vehicle such as a small truck or hire one. Some islanders cannot afford it,” she said.

She said remote settlements like Pangkalan Darat were about 20km from Karakit and travelling the distance to get water was too time consuming for villagers.

Kudat assistant district officer for Banggi, Awang Shahrin Awang Bakar, said the Water Department would be shipping about 20,000 litres of treated water from Kudat to the island three times a week.

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