PETALING JAYA: Water from Sungai Muda, which originates from the Greater Ulu Muda Forest, is a shared resource and neither Kedah nor Penang can claim exclusive rights over the river, say conservation groups.
Friends of Ulu Muda (FoUM), a coalition representing various civil society groups from Kedah and Penang, said setting up a Muda River Basin Authority (MRBA) was a “step in the right direction”.
“FoUM welcomes the Environment and Water Ministry’s decision to promote the setting up of the authority.
“Setting up the MRBA will help resolve the recent spat over the sharing of water resources between the two states on the rights to the raw water from Sungai Muda, ” said Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president Meena Raman.
SAM is the secretariat for FoUM.
She was responding to a report in The Star that the Environment and Water Ministry would strongly promote the setting up of the MRBA as a way to resolve the wrangle between Kedah and Penang over Sungai Muda.
Penang is currently engaged in a “water war” with Kedah over the rights to raw water from the river.
Kedah Mentri Besar Muhammad Sanusi had announced plans to build 14 water tanks along Sungai Muda to provide enough water to the 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 this could reduce the water supply to the state.
Meena said while the heated exchange continued between the two states, the forest remained under threat from land clearing, logging and mining.
“It is time this battle over the raw water of Ulu Muda is put aside and the two state governments sit down to discuss and negotiate how to protect and share the water resources in a collaborative manner.
“While Penang may have the legal rights to extract raw water from its side of Sungai Muda, it is to its long-term benefit to help Kedah to protect the Greater Ulu Muda Forest.
“The forest provides ecosystem services in capturing rainwater, filtering it and regulating its release into the streams and rivers that eventually drain into Sungai Muda, ” she said.
The water from the river, she added, was a key driver for sustainable development.
“FoUM also proposes the setting up of a water-based payment for ecosystem services (PES) for the Sungai Muda water catchment area.
“The MRBA can help arrive at appropriate arrangements for a PES scheme, whereby the major users (beneficiaries) of the river water contribute funds to the protection of the critical water catchment of the river (ie the Greater Ulu Muda Forest).
“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, ” said Meena.
FoUM, she said, also called for an Ulu Muda conservation trust fund to be set up to manage funds received for the protection of the Greater Ulu Muda Forest.