Malaysia: Stop logging or water supply will deplete, Kedah told

JOLYNN FRANCIS The Star 17 May 16;

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Water Supply Corporation Sdn Bhd (PBAPP) has asked the Kedah government to stop logging activities in the Ulu Muda water catchment area.

In response to The Star’s report yesterday on the rampant logging activities there, PBAPP chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa said the destruction of the Ulu Muda forest reserve was threatening the water supply of more than two million people, thousands of businesses as well as padi irrigation.

“We extract 80% of Penang’s raw water (one billion litres) from Sungai Muda daily. There are also 14 Kedah water treatment plants that extract water from Sungai Muda.

“In total, Penang and Kedah extract about 1.56 billion litres from Sungai Muda daily. Without this raw water, there will be a massive water supply crisis in Penang and south Kedah,” he told a press conference on the sidelines of the Penang state assembly sitting yesterday.

Jaseni also said billions of ringgit could be lost as thousands of businesses that were dependent on good water supply would be affected if the logging continued.

“In 2014, both Penang and Kedah contributed RM135bil to Malaysia’s GDP. The reported RM30.1mil forest premium that the Kedah government received in 2014 is a pittance compared to it,” he said.

He expressed hope that the Federal authorities would be able to advise Kedah to stop the “dangerous and disastrous” business venture.

Jaseni said Ulu Muda should also be gazetted as a water catchment area so that it could be protected.

He added logging should not be allowed in water catchment areas as it would disrupt the forest’s ability to help retain rainwater.

It was reported that forest roads, just 9km from the Forest Ranger’s office in Gulau, Alor Setar and after crossing Sungai Sok, showed that many trees had been cleared to make way for heavy-duty vehicles plying the paths to transport logs out of the forest.

The Star managed to find at least five logging depots with thousands of high-quality logs such as meranti, cengal and merbau lying around, waiting to be transported to their processing destinations.

‘Vital to gazette Ulu Muda’
ROYCE TAN The Star 17 May 16;

ALOR SETAR: The Ulu Muda forest reserve must be gazetted as a water catchment area to ensure the place is untouchable, say environmentalists and conservationists.

“As Kedah, Perlis and Penang have a history of major droughts and the area is already considered to be in ‘water deficit’, it is crucial that water catchments be protected,” said Prof Dr Chan Ngai Weng of the School of Humanities at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Dr Chan, who is dubbed Malay­sia’s “Waterman”, said without the natural function of forests as water catchments, the function of catching and storing water would be lost.

“Destruction of water catchments will definitely occur due to logging and, at the very least, severely degrade them,” he said.

Deforestation due to logging would result in exposed land surfaces such as skid roads and logging camps, which would lead to runoff loaded with sediments, ultimately entering the river system and polluting the water.

“There have been many cases where water treatment plants had to be closed as they could not cope with high concentrations of sediments in the water. This will further threaten water security,” said Dr Chan.

He added more than 60,000 padi farmers depended on water from the dams and the impact on their families would be severe.

“The entire Ulu Muda forest needs to be gazetted either as a water catchment, a state park or a national park. Only with the passing of such laws will the area be totally protected and untouchable.

“Even with the current forest reserve status, the forest is not well protected as it can be de-gazetted for logging and development.

“It is the only way as Kedah needs the income from logging. Kedah will always eye this rich forest as long as it is ‘loggable’.

“There’s no point in gazetting half of it and exposing the other half. Look at Royal Belum (State Park) and Temenggor Forest Complex. The negative effects of Temenggor can be clearly seen,” Dr Chan said.

Earth Lodge director and chief executive officer Hymeir Kamaru­din said the Ulu Muda forest might lose its sponge effect if logging continued to be carried out.

“Now the concern is that the logging activities might be carried out in the virgin forest on the east side bordering Thailand.

“The Ulu Muda reserve is a very important catchment area and it has to be protected.

“The Federal Government should also be involved in its protection and give compensation to states that protect nationally important sites so that they do not have to rely on it for income,” he said.

Apathy that's drying up our once mighty rivers
TASNIM LOKMAN New Straits Times 16 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Sungai Pahang is in danger of drying up soon, and the weather is not totally at fault.

Water quality specialist Dr Zaki Zainudin told the New Straits Times that it was important not to attribute the troubles facing Sungai Pahang, the longest river in Peninsular Malaysia at 459km, to a single factor. Other factors at play include conversion of forests into oil palm plantations, agriculture, tin and gold mining, and logging.

Development and human activities in Sungai Pahang catchment areas go back more than 20 years, but, Zaki said, the magnitude was smaller then, making the impact not as obvious. He said as more development took place, the impact gradually became more pronounced.

“Conversion of forests into oil palm plantations, and logging also disrupt the hydrological balance, as forests help retain water. Wildlife habitats are also destroyed. These activities affect water quantity (flow and/or depth), water quality and aquatic ecology. There are socio-economic ramifications, too.

“Erosion of topsoil happens as there is no more underlying growth and roots to hold the soil together. No more vegetation to help filter run-off.”

Zaki said when it rained, vast amounts of solids would be washed into the river from oil palm plantations and logged areas, causing once clear water to turn brownish, like milky tea. He said these solids — called suspended solids — did not remain suspended in the water, but settle to the bottom of the river, making some part of the river shallow. Solids that have settled on the river floor are called sediment.

Besides suspended solids, fertiliser residue that contain ammonia, nitrate and phosphorous, also end up in the river. He said the increase of suspended solids also affected aquatic life, for example, causing fish gills to become clogged.

Zaki said coupled with higher temperature, mainly caused by El Nino, more pollutants become more concentrated because of lower dilution and decreasing water depth.

“The El Nino phenomenon has certainly magnified the flow reduction. Long, dry periods deprive the catchment areas of rainwater recharge.”

Zaki said this led to the aquatic ecosystem becoming stressed and fish dying. He said sediment also wiped out fish breeding grounds, when rocks and pebbles, where fish lay eggs before insemination, become covered with muck.
“All these human activities take place upstream of Sungai Pahang,” said Zaki.

Checks by the NST last week found this to be true.

Zaki said two major hydroelectric dams were also being built on two major tributaries of Sungai Pahang.

He said there would be no problems if enough water was released from these dams. However, Zaki said, the worry was if little water was released — such as when the dams’ reservoirs were being filled. He said other rivers in the country were also at risk.

“Malaysia is the second largest palm oil producer in the world. This translates to many of our watersheds being converted to oil palm plantations, be it in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah or Sarawak.”

Reports of Sungai Golok in Kelantan drying up to knee level have also caused concern. Based on satellite imagery, Zaki said, parts of the river catchment area had been developed for agriculture.

Besides El Nino as the driving fac tor in bringing the waters of the river at the Malaysia-Thai border to knee-level, he said development definitely had some effect.

Another expert, who did not wish to be named, said rivers in Sabah and Sarawak were in an even worse state.

He said because of the vastness of the forests there and the remote location of the rivers, it was difficult to carry out enforcement.

The impact of sediment on Sungai Rajang, the longest river in Malaysia at 563km, was worse than in Sungai Pahang.

He called it “the milk tea with extra milk” river.

“You can see it, all the way from where it starts up to its confluence; it is brown like milk tea. Thank goodness it is big and has a lot more smaller rivers to recharge it,” he told the NST.

The professor said Sungai Kinabatangan in Sabah and Sungai Kahang in Johor were also suffering from the effects of logging. Zaki said it was okay to use natural resources for economic gain, but over exploitation had led to the dire state of affairs.

“What is transpiring now are cues for what the future might hold. Are we going to sit back and pretend everything is still okay? Blame it solely on factors beyond our control, such as El Nino? What about factors within our control? What are we going to do about that?”

It was reported earlier this month that Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob had ordered an investigation into allegations that the main cause of Sungai Pahang becoming shallow was excessive logging in Hulu Tembeling.

“Indeed, one of the reasons for Sungai Pahang going dry is because of the clearing of forest for agriculture, logging and, as we know, there is the construction of the Tekai and Jelai hydrodams going on in the region.

“Nevertheless, we will ask the technical department to give a full and accurate report,” he said.

River now a 'teh tarik' stream
TASNIM LOKMAN New Straits Times 16 May 16;

IT doesn’t take a scientist to realise that something is wrong with Sungai Pahang.
“Never seen anything like this”, and, “The worst I have ever seen in my life”, were the common answers when I asked locals, many in their 60s and 70s, about the river’s water level.

As I stood in overgrown grass under the blazing sun, I could not help but think what the future holds for this river in the next five years if nothing is done to save this vital waterway.

The grass that I was standing on was actually once the river floor.

If I were at that spot seven or eight years ago, I would have been drowning in 3m of water.

Roslan Idris, 64, a local village chief, told me that the spot was where Sungai Jelai and Sungai Tembeling converged to form Sungai Pahang. This area is called Tanjung Pasir Tambang in Kuala Tembeling, Jerantut.

Roslan gave me a toothless smile as he recalled the good old days of free-flowing water, but his eyes portrayed his worries.

“The water here would usually reach up to the jetty steps. Villagers would fish in the river. If they needed to go to town, they would hop onto a boat at this mini jetty. You could see the river level slowly decreasing years ago.

“I think it started in 2000, when lots of development was being carried out, like logging, sand mining and land clearing for agriculture.

“You can see the difference. Ten years ago, the river was crystal clear. You could safely walk on the bedrock of the river bed.

“Now, it is filled with sand and sediment. The river looks like a stream of teh tarik,” he said, adding that most of the villages had no water for almost two months since the onset of extreme hot weather.

The next day, we went downstream to Temerloh, and the conditions were even more shocking.

Parts of the river were dried up, and you could see dead fish on what used to be the river bed.

Environmentalists want the Pahang government to remap and gazette water catchment areas, mainly in Ulu Tembeling’s mountainous area, in a bid to save Sungai Pahang.

PEKA Pahang chairman Khaidir Ahmad said the Ulu Tembeling forest should be maintained as a catchment area.
Converting the land into oil palm plantations should be avoided, he said, as the palms required a lot of water.

“We have asked for oil palm cultivation in this area to be stopped immediately so we can remap the catchment areas. Logging should also stop, while areas that are untouched should be protected.”

Khaidir said PEKA would issue an Ulu Tembeling Declaration this week to the Pahang Government.

He claims the state government did not have a plan to fix Sungai Pahang’s problems. So, his group will present reports and evidence to them instead.

“All the state government has done is deny there is a problem. If they want to deny something, they need to go there and see it for themselves.

He claimed Sungai Jelai was beyond restoration because of the damage caused by agriculture on Cameron Highlands.

“It is very hard for us to save Sungai Jelai. It is already gone, but we hope the new Jelai dam can revitalise it. We can only save Sungai Tembeling because there is still no mining there, only logging.

“We are not against development and we are not anti-establishment. We only want the government to save the water catchment areas,” he said.

A wake-up call to better manage our water resources
New Straits Times 16 May 16;

UNSCRUPULOUS development has been cited as one of the main factors why rivers in the country, including Sungai Pahang, are seeing reduced water flow.

“If you look at the river reserve (land) in Malaysia, I don’t know if the river reserve rules are being observed.

“The developers, contractors and planters, do they really follow the regulations?,” Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar told the New Straits Times.

Wan Junaidi said the sudden drop of water levels in rivers nationwide was not caused by El Nino alone, but because of people. Development and human activities encroaching on water catchment areas and river banks nationwide make up 25 per cent of the major grouses received by the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID).

A DID spokesman said complaints of such activities included logging, sand mining, land clearing for agriculture and gold mining.

The complaints would be forwarded to the state Land and Mines Office, District and Land Office or local authorities for further action.

“Among the actions that can be taken are issuing stop-work orders, impounding and prosecution of those involved.

“The laws that come under their purview are laws that are regulated and enforced by the state itself such as Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said anyone who wanted to carry out projects near river banks needed to obtain a licence from the state authorities.

Wan Junaidi said his ministry was drafting a framework and law that involved all stakeholders to tackle the problem.
“This will be a practical framework — a water-management programme with a total solution.

“We invite stakeholders, the state authorities, Federal Government, National Water Services Commission, Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry (KeTTHA) … everybody to come and contribute.”

He plans to present the framework that his ministry has drafted to the National Physical Planning Council, state Land Councils, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the heads of all states.

He said domestic water supply was under the purview of KeTTHA, while water for agriculture was under the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Ministry.

“We don’t have any central water-management body in Malaysia, and we should. All these things must be looked at in totality because there are things that are not being done.”

Wan Junaidi said he had raised the issue with the cabinet, and the Economic Planning Unit had been directed to look into it. He said it was a problem that should have been addressed 30 years ago.

“It may take a while but this should have been done since Merdeka. Today, in 2016, it is a wake-up call.”

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