Sungai Muda running dry

Worrying sight: Sungai Muda seen from near the PBA Holdings Bhd pumphouse, in Kepala Batas.

GEORGE TOWN: Penang’s primary raw water source – Sungai Muda in Kedah – has dipped below the 1.80m alert threshold since Jan 1.

In announcing the second alert, Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa said the water level was at 1.46m on Tuesday.

“The normal level for Sungai Muda is above 2.0m, ” he said.

“The last time it was this low was in 2016, during the super El Nino phenomenon.”

He said if the water level continued to drop, the 14 treatment plants in Kedah would be in trouble.

He said some of these plants provide water to Sungai Petani and Kulim High-Tech Park.

Jaseni, in his press statement, said the capacity of the Muda and Beris dams in Kedah, which release water into Sungai Muda, were reported to be at 9.56% and 75.33% respectively.

“Despite cloud seeding being carried out in Kedah, it has little impact. The water levels in Sungai Muda, Air Itam and Teluk Bahang dam continue to drop.

“The effective capacity of Air Itam and Teluk Bahang dams have dropped to 56.2% and 36.1% respectively as on January 28, ” he said.

He said the cloud seeding operations in Kedah and Penang would have to continue to induce rainfall to increase the water capacity of the dams in both states.

He said the operation is important to mitigate the risks of a prolonged drought.

Jaseni said Mengkuang dam would be the “saviour” in channelling water supply to the state if needed.

He said it would be used as the last resort if they failed to make rain to bring the water level at the Air Itam and Teluk Bahang dams up.

“The Mengkuang dam is huge. It is 27 times bigger than the Air Itam dam, ” he added.

Jaseni said the south-west monsoon season was expected in April.

He, however, said its actual arrival date and the amount of rainfall it would bring could not be accurately ascertained at this point.

“PBAPP has to minimise drawdowns from both Air Itam and Teluk Bahang dams to prolong the lifespan of strategic drought reserves on Penang island.

“PBAPP has been optimising the production of treated water at the Sungai Dua water treatment plant. The average production of treated water from the plant was 950 million litres per day (MLD) since Jan 1, ” he said.

Jaseni said PBAPP is not taking any chances and is drawing down raw water from the expanded Mengkuang dam as the effective capacity of the Mengkuang dam is 73.4% as of Tuesday.

“PBAPP has been drawing between 50 MLD and 100 MLD from Mengkuang dam since Jan 8 to supplement the daily abstraction of raw water from Sungai Dua.

“It should be noted that the maximum volume of raw water that PBAPP is able to draw down from the Mengkuang dam is 300 MLD, while the average treated water consumption in Penang in 2019 was 842.6 MLD, ” he added.

Jaseni said Penang is highly dependent on Sungai Muda on a daily basis.

He reassured Penangites there would not be water rationing but called on all consumers to save water for the next two to three months to avoid such drastic action.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Meteorological Department said Penang was facing medium-dry weather while Kedah was experiencing very dry weather.

However, both states are not facing drought warning based on the department’s drought monitoring report in December.

On Jan 18, it was reported that the water crisis in northern states was unlikely to get better with two dams in Kedah already hovering at the danger level.

On Jan 15, Penang issued a water alert after the effective capacity at the Air Itam dam and Teluk Bahang dam dipped lower than normal.

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