Kedah and Penang should put aside squabble; prioritise the health of Sg Muda

THE water source dispute between the Kedah and Penang state government should be handled in a more diplomatic way.

Threatening one another with only exacerbate the dispute, and also negatively impact the commercial values and economic activities of the people as well social obligations.

The proposed riverside water storage project will affect the natural flow of the Muda River and will disrupt the ecology of the river and degrade the water quality and quality downstream within the Penang State boundaries.

A study of Sungai Muda in 2010 found that the river is already under threats of erosion over the last 20 years due to geomorphological meandering nature of the Sungai Muda system which has serious risks for any engineering activities in the area.

Other factors such as new land-uses and increased water demand will also worsen the river’s condition.

The current land-use composition at Sungai Muda river basin include infrastructures (5%), agriculture (40%), forest (50%) and others (5%), according to the JPS GIS MUDA geoportal.

In response to the dispute, the Global Environment Centre (GEC) director Faizal Parish said the Kedah state government has a valid concern to ensure that there is adequate water supply to meet demand especially during the dry season.

“However, Penang has an equally valid right to have adequate water supply year-round,” he pointed out.

“What is needed is a comprehensive solution to solve the problems of both states for the long term rather than a short-term grab for resources by one party.”

Faizal urged both states to opt for sustainable management of the river through an integrated river basin management (IRBM) approach by taking responsibility to plan for and protect the whole river basin and the catchment areas as well as managing current and future water demand within the capacity of the river basin.

“The multiple proposed barrages under the TAPS (Takungan Air Pinggiran Sungai) scheme will disrupt the ecology of the river system, destroy the ecology and fisheries and induce serious problems of siltation,” he cautioned.

“The lower Muda river will not turn dry but instead will draw in sea water leading to salinisation of ground water and loss of agricultural crops in both states.”

With no protection of the catchment, the barrages will quickly silt up leading to flooding problems and further disrupted flow. As such, focus should instead be placed on enhancing efficiency of water use on both states. 

The heavy use of water for industry in Penang should be reduced by re-use and recycling, while domestic consumers should also not waste water resources, according to Faizal.

On the contrary, water is mostly used for agriculture in Kedah – especially at the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA) irrigation scheme.  However, rice cultivation currently incurs an inefficient use of water which is not sustainable on the long term. 

“New techniques such as SRI (system of rice intensification) rice production can boost yields while significantly saving water,” suggested Faizal. “Kedah should also reduce its non-revenue water rate (47%) which signifies water wasted through pipe leakages and other losses.”

Only by working together through sharing of expertise and resources can both states be able to develop a win-win scenario with better catchment protection, more efficient water use and enhanced economic, social and environmental returns, added Faizal. – March 31, 2021



Photo credit: Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBA)

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