Papar water treatment plant shut down again over high salinity

KOTA KINABALU: Last week's heavy rain brought relief to the drought-hit Papar district, but it proved to be short-lived after a water treatment plant was forced to suspend operations again.

Sabah Works Minister Datuk Shahelmey Yahya (pic) said the state Water Department was forced to shut down the Limbahau plant on Thursday (April 11) owing to high salinity levels in the water.

Shahelmey, who is also Deputy Chief Minister, said the plant had a capacity of 10 million litres per day (MLD).

Another nearby plant, operated by private water producer Jetama Sdn Bhd, was also forced to reduce its production capacity from 13MLD to 9MLD after one of its inlets was exposed to salt water.

Shahelmey said the measures were necessary as water flow from Papar river catchments reduced significantly in the days following the rains, allowing seawater to move upstream towards the Limbahau plant again.

"We stopped the operations of the plant to prevent salt water from being processed as treated water," he told reporters on Sunday (April 14).

He said there was now an overall shortage of 14MLD in the district, which has a population of 150,000.

As a result of the plant's closure, water tanker deliveries to the district have resumed.

"We hope it rains again, especially over the catchments, as it helps push the seawater back from the treatment water intake points. The salinity level should drop so that the water can be treated," Shahelmey added.

The maximum salinity level for treatable water is 120mg per litre (MGL), but it hit 6,000MGL with the sea water intrusion.

Papar declared a drought emergency on March 13 with its drying rivers resulting in sea water flowing upstream to the treatment intakes.

Moderate to heavy rains over the April 6 and 7 weekend helped push back the saline water intrusion, and the treatment plants restarted ahead of the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations.

The Water Department is also continuing to deliver supplies to the residents of Pulau Sebatik, where the dam dried up in early January.

The water treatment plant there has continued to operate on a minimal basis while water is delivered to residents from tube well sources.

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