Malaysia: Bukit Merah dam water shortage 'the worst in history'

RAJA KHALIDATUL ASRIN New Straits Times 25 Apr 16;

BUKIT MERAH: About 250,000 people in Kerian district will face water rationing if the water level at the Bukit Merah dam drops to 5.1 metres.

State Public Utilities, Infrastructure, Energy and Water Committee chairman Datuk Zainol Fadzi Paharudin said if the present dry condition persists, it would only take only 23 more days for the water level at the man-made lake to reach critical level.

“The water level at the lake has reached 5.97m today (Monday), which is very alarming.

“This is the worst in history," he said after visiting the lake here today. Although the authorities had been conducting the cloud seeding since April 12, it had failed to produce rain due to a lack of suitable clouds.

“We have also stopped releasing water from the dam for agricultural activities as the focus now is for domestic use.

“At present, the reservoir is supplying 120 million litres of water daily to two treatment plants in Gunung Semanggol, which is lower than the previous 150 million litres daily before," he said.

Bukit Merah Laketown Resort assistant director (sales and marketing) Aslina Ahmad said they have been significantly affected by the El Nino phenomenon, with the number of visitors dropping 50 per cent in the past few months.

Although the Bukit Merah Orang Utan Island was closed for more than two weeks when it became inaccessible by boats, she said the resort and its water-theme and eco-adventure parks are still open as usual.

“The only activities that had to stop are the ones at the lake," she said.

‘Study needed before declaring Bukit Merah a disaster area’
The Star 26 Apr 16;

IPOH: A thorough study should be done before declaring Bukit Merah, about 90km from here, a disaster area because of the receding level at Tasik Bukit Merah Dam.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, said that normally, a location would be declared a disaster zone if it was hit by a calamity like floods or large-scale fire.

“When such a declaration is made, it means they (the affected residents) have the right to receive aid such as compassionate payment,” he said when contacted yesterday.

The minister said if the dwindling level in a dam adversely affected farmers, it would be the responsibility of the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry to study the situation and take follow-up action.

However, Shahidan said, he would be visiting the affected areas at Bukit Merah soon to see for himself the effects of El Nino.

He was asked to comment on the statement by Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Zambry Abd Kadir on Sunday that the state government would apply to the Federal Government to declare Bukit Merah a disaster zone.

Zambry said with such a declaration, he hoped the National Security Council (MKN) could assist farmers in the Kerian area to assess the losses due to the depleting water in Bukit Merah Dam.

However, MKN secretary Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad said that it was no longer the agency responsible for assessing any damage or losses incurred by any party in a disaster.

Instead, he said, that responsibility was taken over by the National Disaster Management Agency which was set up last year. — Bernama

Water rationing likely in Perak
CHRISTOPHER TAN The Star 26 Apr 16;

KERIAN: Water rationing will be imposed in Kerian and several areas in Taiping and Kamunting, if the Bukit Merah Dam level hits the critical 5.18m mark.

“The level at the dam is now 6.06m but may go down within 23 days if the current dry weather and consumption pattern continue,” said Perak Public Amenities, Infrastructure, Energy and Water Committee chairman Datuk Zainol Fadzi Paharudin.

He said should water rationing be imposed, some 250,000 consumers in the area would be affected.

“Bukit Merah Dam, which is also Bukit Merah Lake, supplies 120 million litres per day to the Semanggol water treatment plant.

“The level at the dam is now classified as Critical Stage Three (below 6.40m).

“Critical Stage One is when the level is 7.01m while Stage Two is 6.70m,” he told a press conference at the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort yesterday.

“The Perak Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) is preparing additional water pumps for padi farmers to recycle their existing water supply for their farms,” he said.

He added that the Kerian District Office would be meeting today to evaluate the water issue before tabling it to the Perak government.

“We will then decide if there is a need to present it to the National Disaster Management Agency for them to address the damage or losses incurred due to the dry weather,” he said.

He stressed that the matter only concerns northern Perak and not the entire state.

30,000 Kuantan residents to experience water cuts from Thursday
NIK IMRAN ABDULLAH New Straits Times 25 Apr 16;

KUANTAN: Water supply disruptions will affect 30,000 subscribers here on Thursday and Friday as there will be upgrading works by state water authority and Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) during the period.

In a statement today, Pahang Water Management Bhd (Paip) said works to link distribution pipes would be carried out in Indera Mahkota (IM) 15 on April 28-29. "Water supply will be cut off from 8pm on Thursday until 8am on Friday," it said.

Paip said the affected areas include Astana Golf, Bukit Istana, Kota SAS, Taman Alam Perdana and Taman Damai.

Also affected will be IM 13, 14 and 15, Kampung Padang, Taman Impian, Mara Professional College, Bukit Kuin and Bukit Bakong.

Paip said works to upgrade systems by TNB would affect areas in Felda Lepar Hilir 1, 2 , 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, Taman Saujana, Gambang Water Park, Pulau Manis, Matriculation College and Community College.

Kedah seeks new dam and canal to solve water woes
The Star 26 Apr 16;

ALOR SETAR: Kedah plans to build a RM650mil dam and a 23km canal as a long-term measure to overcome water shortages in the Rice Bowl state.

The RM650mil reservoir, to be named Nauk Dam, straddles Pendang and Sik districts and will be the state’s fifth dam.

The canal, dubbed Jeniang Transfer which will form the main artery for water out of Beris Dam, connects with other waterways and could add to Penang’s water woes when it becomes a physical reality.

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah said water from Beris Dam flows directly to Penang “but would be diverted through the canal for use in the state”.

“Kedah needs a new dam. The four major dams – Ahning, Beris, Muda, and Pedu – in the state are not enough and the new dam project is estimated to cost about RM650mil.

“The projects are on the drawing board and we would like to proceed with them immediately.

“The Economic Planning Unit is now discussing the dam and canal projects with the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry and relevant agencies.

“However, the state needs the cooperation and financial support from the Federal Government for the projects. It is a massive undertaking,” he told a press conference after the third sitting of the third term of the 13th State Legislative Assembly Meeting held at Wisma Darul Aman here yesterday.

Bashah said the Kedah e-Tutor, an online education portal launched by his predecessor Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir in 2015, had been suspended due to cost factors.

The RM18mil initiative by the state government was for the benefit of Year Four to Form Five students in the state.

Under the project, students in the state had free access to 80 different subjects on the e-Tutor portal.

Bashah said the state government would look at other ways to help students with their studies.

Earlier when winding up the emergency motion tabled by Ahmad Saad @ Yahya (PAS-Alor Mengkudu) on water supply in the state, Ahmad Bashah (BN-Bakar Bata) said “the state is proposing to turn sand mining sites to store water to ensure sufficient supply of water”.

Takong Lake slowly coming back to life
The Star 26 Apr 16;

GERIK: Slowly but surely, water is pooling again in Takong Lake, much to the relief of Pengkalan Hulu folks.

A stream feeding the lake, which locals call Sungai Selarong, is holding up against the drought with a small but constant flow to refill the lake.

“I have lived here all my life and the stream has never dried up,” said civil servant Ahmad Asri Ismail, 35, who lives in Kampung Selarong.

On April 16, The Star highlighted the lake on its front page as among the first in the country to bear the brunt of El Nino.

After the lake shrank, the local authority further drained it and held a rarely done community fishing event called Pesta Gagau.

A check yesterday showed that water was starting to stream into the lake again.

Pengkalan Hulu district secretary Mohd Shah Nizam Abdul Aziz said the district council had also released the remaining water to repair a broken monsoon drain that lowered the lake’s level during the rainy season.

“El Nino does play a role. But it did not suddenly dry up. We are now upgrading the monsoon drain at a cost of RM190,000,” he said yesterday.

Taps run dry, and sweltering Malaysians run out of patience
SUE-CHERN LOOI Today Online 26 Apr 16;

PERLIS — In all his 76 years, Perlis resident Sharif Saad has never felt so hot. The taxi driver bathes five to six times a day, and keeps his three fans switched on the whole day in his village house that has no air-conditioning.

To cope with the sweltering, almost suffocating, heat, he also wraps himself in a wet towel to cool off during the day and even at night to help him sleep.

“The towel would be dry in just two or three hours,” he said.

Many Malaysians are struggling to live in this sauna – a prolonged heatwave engulfing northern states – that is caused by the Super El Niño phenomenon. Temperatures have soared to 38 and 39°C on some days.

The Malaysian government warned over the weekend that the hot and dry weather, started in January, could stretch to September, resulting in depleting water reserves, more forest fires and worsening haze.

TODAY visited three northern states - Perlis, Penang and Kedah - that have been bearing the brunt of the unbearable heat last week, and interviewed residents, farmers and officials to find out how they have been adjusting to the searing temperatures. Many were frustrated yet seemed resigned to their scorching fate, while also concerned about the impact on their livelihood and living environment.

Mr Sharif’s home in Kampung Kolam in Padang Besar, Perlis, near the Malaysia-Thai border is now undergoing water-rationing.

Located on higher ground, the water pressure is too low to send water there.

Since April 16, after the area’s Timah Tasoh Dam water level dropped to a dangerously low level of 26.2m, residents have had to wait with their pails for water to be delivered to their front gates by lorries sent by state water supplier Syarikat Air Perlis.

“This is the first water-rationing in the village since it was established 37 years ago,” said housewife Mariyana Mansor.

“Many were caught unprepared and didn’t have large containers to collect and store water. Even the hardware shops nearby have run out of stock.”

Yet, not all residents are aware of the need to conserve water, she said, despite the authorities constantly sending out messages, via mobile phones and radio announcements, to remind residents not to waste water.

Mrs Mariyana, 41, said it was tedious not having enough water.

“If I need to do the laundry, I wait for the water pressure to improve. If it gets too troublesome to cook, my family eats out,” she told TODAY.

But there were times when her home ran out of water, like last Wednesday when her youngest child skipped school due to insufficient water for bathing.

The heat is disrupting education. Schools in Perlis had closed a few times last month due to the heatwave. Last Friday, Perlis schools were again ordered by the Education Ministry to close after the temperature exceeded 37°C three days in a row.

“Kids are getting ill. Some have complained of itchiness, migraine and nausea. It is just too hot,” added Mrs Mariyana.

Primary school teacher Aizat Faizal, 29, who teaches in Kuala Perlis, said his school had stocked up bottled water for pupils to buy should they need extra water.

Many outdoor and after school programmes were disrupted by the hot weather, he said, adding: “PE (physical education) classes can only be held until 10am. Extracurricular activities in the afternoons are all conducted indoors now.

“Fans are not good enough anymore and we need air conditioning. This is climate change.”

The weather is also affecting crops. University students Mohd Rohafizan Mohd Hanapiah and Mohd Arif Ibrahim, both 21, sell mangoes at a roadside stall during their current semester break.

“It is difficult to get rain. That is why the harum manis mangoes grow well here. They need a hot climate to grow, but not this hot,” said Mr Rohafizan, who studies plantation management.

“This time, the temperature is too high, so the harum manis season is disrupted, making the fruit more expensive.”

It is not the first time for such scorching heat, he added, pointing out that temperature in Perlis reached 40.1 degrees Celsius in 1998 when El Niño last hit Malaysia.

What worries residents and farmers this time is how fast the state’s only dam is drying up.

When the dam’s water level dropped to 26.78m late last month, it was then the lowest level it had been since it started operating in 1992. Two weeks later, it dipped to 26.2m, triggering the water-rationing exercise. Over this past weekend, the water level has dropped further to 26.19 m, Bernama reported, compared to the normal level of 29.1m. The critical level is 25m.

In neighbouring Kedah, which is dotted with rice fields, many farmers were still waiting to start seeding their fields that had all dried up in the heat.

Kedah rice farmer Abdul Talib Taib, 64, keeps up to date on the dwindling water supply from watching the news.

“We hear all sorts of reports on television – that the dams have no water in Perlis, Kedah, Perak. So it is not possible to start planting. People need water to drink so they cannot give us water for the fields,” he said.

However, the rice planting season in Kedah is on schedule despite the heatwave and water supply woes, said Mr Othman Aziz, chairman of the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (Mada), an agency that promotes rice production and increasing the income of farmers.

The water for irrigation had been released in three stages – on March 30, April 9 and 19 – for over 100,000 hectares of rice fields in Kedah and Perlis, he told TODAY.

“There is no problem. The water for irrigation comes from the Muda, Pedu and Ahning Dams. They have about 60 per cent capacity, which is 900 million cubic metres (MCUM) of water,” he said.

“It is more than enough, as one planting season needs only 500 MCUM and 300 MCUM has been released.”

Meanwhile, bracing for hot and dry days to drag until later this year, Penang has suspended all irrigation activities last week for its water supply to go to domestic consumers.

This is bad news for rice farmer Ho Wing Fook, 56, who lamented that his fields are “all dried up”. All he can do now is hope for heavy rains.

Penang relies on the Muda River, which flows out of Kedah, for 84 per cent of its water supply.

Authorities in Penang had expressed worries in recent weeks following reports that Kedah’s Beris and Muda Dams, which release water to sustain the Muda River water level, were to last for 30 and 50 days respectively.

Penang residents are not overly worried for now. The absence of water-rationing plans could mean that there is no immediate concern about water supply at this time, said Mr Yan Lee, 53, a legal counsel.

But he has another fear.

“My concern would be the problem of haze. Will this haze situation be worse than last year with all this dry (weather) ... will there be more burning?” he said, citing the bad smog situation that hit Penang and other states last year following forest fires and burnings in Indonesia.