Kedah and Penang state government should prioritize the interests of their people while still protecting the health of Sungai Muda
PETALING JAYA, 31 MARCH 2021: The water source dispute between Kedah and Penang state government should be handled in a more diplomatic way. Threatening one another with only exacerbate the dispute, and also negatively impact the commercial values and economic activities of the people as well social obligations.
The proposed riverside water storage project will affect the natural flow of the Muda River and will disrupt the ecology of the river and degrade the water quality and quality downstream within the Penang State boundaries. A study of Sungai Muda in 2010 found that the river is already under threats of erosion over the last 20 years due to geomorphological meandering nature of the Sungai Muda system which has serious risks for any engineering activities in the area. Other factors such as new land-uses and increased water demand will also worsen the river’s condition . The current land-use composition at Sungai Muda river basin include infrastructures (5%), agriculture (40%), forest (50%) and others (5%) according to the JPS GIS MUDA geoportal .
In response to the dispute, Faizal Parish, Director of Global Environment Centre (GEC), said, “Kedah state government has a valid concern to ensure there is adequate water supply to meet demand especially during the dry season. However, Penang has an equally valid right to have adequate water supply year-round. What is needed is a comprehensive solution to solve the problems of both states for the long term rather than a short-term grab for resources by one party. Both states should opt for sustainable management of the river through an Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) approach and take responsibility to plan for and protect the whole river basin and the catchment areas as well as managing current and future water demand within the capacity of the river basin.
He further commented: “The multiple proposed barrages under the TAPS scheme will disrupt the ecology of the river system, destroy the ecology and fisheries and induce serious problems of siltation. The lower Muda river will not turn dry but instead will draw in sea water leading to salinization of ground water and loss of agricultural crops in both states. With no protection of the catchment, the barrages will quickly silt up leading to flooding problems and furthrer disrupted flow. Focus should instead be placed on enhancing efficiency of water use on both states. The heavy use of water for Industry in Penang should be reduced by re-use and recycling, while domestic consumers should also not waste water resources. In Kedah the main use of water is for agriculture – especially the MADA irrigation scheme. However, rice cultivation is currently an inefficient use of water and is not sustainable on the long term. New techniques such as SRI rice production can boost yields while significantly saving water. Kedah should also reduce its non-revenue water rate (47%) which signifies water wasted through pipe leakages and other losses. By working together and sharing expertise and resources, the two states can develop a win-win scenario with better catchment protection, more efficient water use and enhanced economic, social and environmental returns.
Dr Kalithasan, GEC’s River Care Programme Manager added: “The sustainability of the water resources is becoming an increasingly important issue especially with the increasing water consumption in Malaysia . Should the TAPS project proceed with no proper mitigation or coordination between the two states, the natural flow of Sungai Muda could be badly affected causing detrimental effects toward the life and economic activities of the people like farmers, fishermen and others. If both state government fail to resolve the issue together, the federal government, through the Minister of Environment and Water (KASA) should intervene and facilitate a mitigation plan under the National Water Resources Policy.”
The United Nations (UN) recognised access to water and sanitation as a basic human right. Approximately 200,000 people are living within the Sungai Muda river basin and about 1.776 million people in Penang have been receiving water from the upstream of Penang’s Lahar Tiang intake. Both state governments should not risk the people’s access to clean water just because they are not willing to compromise for a win-win solution. The rights and welfare of the people should be the priority. They must negotiate the best integrated management to resolve the water intake issue while still protecting the health of Sungai Muda to avoid river damage from the development.
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- In an earlier statement, the Kedah government announced that they will implement riverside water catchment project called Takungan Air Pinggiran Sungai (TAPS) aims to secure enough water supply for Kedah during dry season. The Penangites might find themselves using muddy water if Penang state government refuse to work together and pay raw water charges for drawing water from Sungai Muda. The Penang state government retorted by warning to take legal actions if the development effects the quality of water at their water intake.
- Good river hydrology is important for the health of our rivers and quality of our water. This includes aspects such as depth, width, velocity and volume of water (discharge). There should be different varieties of all these in a river to maintain its natural flow.
Figure 1: Sungai Muda River Basin (Red line)
Figure 2: Topological and land-use map of Sungai Muda