GEORGE TOWN: It is time for Kedah and Penang to work together to save Ulu Muda’s water resources, says conservation group coalition Friends of Ulu Muda (FOUM).
Meenakshi Raman of the FOUM secretariat called upon the leaders of both states to work out a mutual agreement for the benefit of everyone.
“The river water originating from Ulu Muda Forest does not belong exclusively to anyone but is a shared resource.
“It is of critical importance for the drinking water supply to Kedah, Penang and Perlis, the irrigation of the rice bowl of Malaysia and a key driver for sustainable development," she said in a statement on Monday (April 5).
Meenakshi, who is also Sahabat Alam Malaysia president, noted the increasing friction between the two state governments over the rights to raw water from Sungai Muda.
The Kedah government, she said, plans to divert and store water from the river which would result in less availability at the intake point for Penang’s supply.
On the other hand, she added, the Penang government is planning a multimillion-ringgit project to pipe in water through the Sungai Perak Raw Water Transfer Scheme as an alternative to Sungai Muda.
“This is in addition to the millions of ringgit already spent to enlarge Penang’s Mengkuang Dam, which is basically a giant holding tank for water from Sungai Muda.
“While the heated exchange continues between the two states, the headwaters of Sungai Muda - for example, the Ulu Muda Forest - remain under threat from land clearing, logging and mining,” she added.
Meenakshi said it is time for the two state governments to sit down for negotiations over the protection and sharing of water resources.
“While Penang may have the legal right to extract raw water from its side of Sungai Muda, it is to its long-term benefit to help Kedah protect the Ulu Muda Forest.
“The forest's ecosystem captures, filters and regulates release of rainwater into the streams and rivers that eventually drain into Sungai Muda.
“The money earmarked for diverting and building water storage facilities would be better spent on protecting and maintaining the Ulu Muda Forest," she said.
FOUM also proposed key steps to be taken by the two state governments, including the appointment of an independent mediator to facilitate their discussions.
“Consult experts on water-based Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) to provide technical advice on how to set up a PES scheme for the Muda River water catchment area.
“Discuss and come to a mutual agreement on the PES scheme whereby the major users (beneficiaries) of Sungai Muda water contribute funds to the protection of critical water catchment.
“Protection activities should include gazetting the entire area as a state or national park; patrolling and enforcement against encroachment and wildlife hunting; forest cover monitoring; and environmental education and awareness activities," Meenakshi said.
She also put forward the concept of an Ulu Muda conservation trust fund to manage funds received for protection of the forest, complete with a board of trustees consisting of stakeholders at all levels, from consumers, planners and researchers to government agencies right up to Federal level.
FOUM is a coalition of organisations and individuals working to protect the 160,000ha Ulu Muda Forest in the north of Kedah.