PETALING JAYA: The El Nino weather phenomenon will begin soon, bringing with it dry weather and the threat of drought.
If Malaysia does not want to face a water crisis, the time to act is now: the government must look into several issues urgently.
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Malaysian Water and Energy Research Association president S. Piarapakaran said this included aspects such as dam water levels and raw water availability.
“Actual virgin forest cover has decreased greatly in the past few decades, which will impact raw water availability and the natural replenishing capabilities of rivers.
“Therefore, data related to previous El Nino phenomena must be used for comparisons to predict the likelihood of prolonged hot weather and its effects,” he said.
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The loss of raw water for water treatment plants is another issue to keep an eye on.
Dams are used to keep a river’s base flow at a level that supports all the environmental services the river provides.
The lack of forest cover and the dry weather causes evaporation loss and more water would need to be released from dams – which would leave less raw water for water treatment plants to take up, and thus less water for consumption.
(Base flow refers to the groundwater that fills a river, not the water that comes from irregular sources such as rain and surface run-off.)
Furthermore, when the river’s base flow decreases, the water’s dilution factor will also decrease.
So even if pollutant levels remain unchanged, the lack of dilution can actually increase the river’s level of pollution.
“Additional measures such as monitoring the level of pollutants more frequently must be implemented to ensure that raw water is suitable for extraction and use,” Piarapakaran said.
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He also called for state Environment Departments and other government agencies responsible for raw water to increase enforcement to prevent water pollution.
“Low base flows during prolonged hot weather put high pressure on raw water availability.
“To ensure that the operation of water treatment plants is not affected, factories and other entities illegally dumping pollutants must be quickly detected with the help of local authorities,” he said.
He said with the risk of peatland fires increasing during hot and dry conditions, the relevant agencies must ensure sufficient water supply to extinguish them if they could not be prevented.
The National Water Service Commission in Peninsular Malaysia and the state governments of Sabah and Sarawak must also provide appropriate mechanisms to monitor and manage the treated water supply situation, he said.
“In the event of a water crisis due to El Nino, control of the use of treated water and emergency water can be implemented under the Water Services Industry Act (WSIA) 2006.
“Under Section 54, water rationing, supply interruption and water pressure control can be implemented. But if the situation worsens, Section 56 can be used to implement tighter and targeted water supply controls and shutdowns,” he said.
Piarapakaran added that although Sabah and Sarawak do not come under WSIA, both states could emulate the same approach.