PUTRAJAYA: The wrangle between Kedah and Penang over Sungai Muda could be resolved by setting up a Muda River Basin Authority (MRBA), the Environment and Water Ministry has proposed.
Describing the confrontation between the Penang and Kedah governments over the river as “untenable”, the ministry’s secretary-general, Datuk Seri Zaini Ujang, said such an authority was provided for under the Federal Constitution.
“The composition of the MRBA would be state representatives with expertise in river and water resources, as well as representatives from related federal agencies, ” he said in a recent interview.
Zaini acknowledged that water resources management came under the purview of state governments as clearly stipulated in the state list of the Constitution.
“The ministry respects the power of state governments over water resources as enshrined in the Constitution.
“However, the Federal Government does have a role when it comes to inter-basin management in the case of the Muda River basin which is shared between Kedah and Penang, ” he added.
Asked if plans for such an authority were already in the pipeline, he said “we are discussing”.
“This means we are serious about it. We know that the states require help and we would like to assist, ” he added.
To a question if this was the best way forward, Zaini said the concept of river basins was new in Malaysia.
“We have 17 river basins that are shared between states, not only in Kedah (and Penang).
“These include Sungai Muar (which flows through Negri Sembilan, Pahang and Johor) and Sungai Linggi (Melaka and Negri Sembilan).
“If we have to do this, we have to do it overall because this issue will continue to arise. So, we have to look into the framework first. If it’s acceptable, we will have to discuss it with the states, ” he added.
To a question if this had been raised with the states, Zaini said: “Yes, two or three states.”
“It’s the question of efficiency. Some of these water-related resources are all funded by the Federal Government under the Federal Constitution, so we want to optimise our investments, ” he said.
Rivers contribute over 90% of the water supply in Malaysia.
Penang is currently engaged in a “water war” with Kedah over the rights to raw water from Sungai Muda.
Kedah Mentri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor had announced plans to build 14 water tanks along Sungai Muda to provide enough water for Kedah residents and padi farmers.
He is also insisting that a raw water supply fee be imposed on Penang.
However, the Penang government argued that building the water tanks could reduce the water supply to its state.
Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow had called on the Federal Government to intervene in the dispute and also proposed the setting up of such an authority as the MRBA.
Sungai Muda is important for supplying water not only to the padi planting areas in Kedah, the nation’s “rice bowl”, but also to various industries in Penang.
This is in addition to the river providing drinking water supply to southern Perlis, Penang and Kedah.
The longest river in Kedah at 178km has its source in the Ulu Muda Forest in Sik.
Zaini said the ministry was of the view that if left unresolved, the water dispute between Kedah and Penang could result in consumers in both states being deprived of clean water.