Malaysia: Algae worsening water quality at Sembrong Dam

NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 11 Apr 17;

KLUANG: The water quality at the Sembrong Dam here continues to deteriorate due to the presence of high levels of blue-green algae, which is believed to have been caused by excessive farming around the area.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Resource Sustainability Research Alliance dean Prof Dr Zulkifli Yusop said based on a recent study conducted in the area, the presence of blue-green algae had reached 99% of the total algae population.

“This level is too high.

“This is due to ‘eutrophication’, which happens when too much nutrients from agriculture and farming waste seep into the water.

“When the situation worsens, it will deplete the oxygen level and adversely affect aquatic life.

“The thick layer of algae will also block sunlight, which is the source of energy for plankton and fish,” he said, adding that the lake would then turn green.

Asked about the effects on health, Dr Zulkifli said studies done abroad on water contaminated with blue-green algae indicated possible health risks.

“But I believe that our water regulatory authorities such as Bakaj (Johor Water Regulatory Body) and SAJ (Syarikat Air Johor) are closely monitoring the situation and doing their best to only supply clean water to the public,” he said in an interview.

Dr Zulkifli said more effort should be made to ensure that the lake is rehabilitated as raw water supply is a major issue in the state.

“We need to look forward about preserving our water sources. We cannot look at the Sembrong dam as merely for flood mitigation.”

He blamed the poor water quality at the Sembrong Dam on extensive farming around the area.

“The use of fertilisers in agriculture must be controlled.

“There are no laws in Malaysia to ensure good agricultural practices, only guidelines,” he said.

He suggested a buffer zone be demarcated around the water source and agricultural waste be treated before being released into the river.

When contacted, a SAJ spokesman said they are doing their best to address the algae problem, including using LG Sonic to kill the algae at the water extraction point.

“We have also released more than 80,000 lampam fish fry to eat up the algae,” he said.

He assured consumers that public health is SAJ’s priority and it only channels water that has been treated and is safe for consumption.


Agriculture firms to lose contracts if they break the rules
NELSON BENJAMIN The Star 12 Apr 17;

KLUANG: Agriculture companies which do not adhere to farming regulations around the Sembrong Dam will face tough action, including having their concession agreement terminated.

This includes those who encroach on the dam’s buffer zone or use excessive pesticides.

Agriculture, Agro-based Indus­tries, Entrepreneurship Develop­ment and Cooperatives Committee chairman Ismail Mohamed said besides the Kluang Modern Farming project, other contributors to pollution were oil palm plantations, housing areas and animal-rearing farms within the huge catchment area.

“Based on the water samples collected each year, the water quality has been deteriorating due to many activities around the dam,” he said.

Kluang Modern Farming, he said, had since taken measures to address the problem, which included stopping all farming activities along the dam’s buffer zone, channelling all water from the farms into retention ponds and building proper drainage.

On the use of pesticides, he said the Agriculture Department had been carrying out surveillance and advising the farmers to follow good farming practices.

“We have also conducted tests to ensure that their produce conforms to the chemical residual levels set by the Health Ministry,” he added.

The Sembrong Dam, a major water source for 120,000 people in the Kluang district and parts of the Batu Pahat district, is surrounded by oil palm plantations, farming and the 3,480ha Kluang Modern Farming.

The dam, which was built for flood mitigation in 1984 and is managed by the Department of Irrigation and Drainage, has been providing water for consumption since 1990.

The Star reported yesterday that the water quality at the Sembrong Dam continued to deteriorate due to the presence of high levels of blue-green algae, which is believed to have been caused by excessive farming around the area.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Resource Sustainability Research Alliance dean Prof Dr Zulkifli Yusop said based on a recent study in the area, the algae had reached 99% of the total algae population, posing a health hazard.

Meanwhile, State Health, Envi­ron­ment, Education and Informa­tion Committee chairman Datuk Ayob Rahmat said he would get the Health Department to immediately collect water samples for testing.

“We are concerned as we do not want to cause any health risks to the public,” he said.

He added that the state government had previously come up with strategies to overcome the problem, such as ordering a pig farm to close and ensuring that the cattle farms in the area adhered to the strict regulations.

“There was a suggestion to fence up the dam, but it involves tens of millions of ringgit,” he said.

Asked about the modern farming project, Ayob said it was a federal project and needed to be closely monitored to prevent the situation from worsening.

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