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Seven years ago, the government insisted that the construction of the Selangor Dam was "unavoidable" because of the El-Nio effect. Save Our Sungai (SOS) Selangor and other concerned NGOs advised against it and pointed out that the root causes of the 1998 "water crisis" were:

  • inefficient water distribution;

  • careless per capita water usage;
  • wasteful leakage in the antiquated pipe system; and
  • reckless denudation of watershed areas, in turn affecting rainfall patterns.
  • Concerned civil society groups have emphasised for years that stringent forest and water conservation, replacing leaking pipes, and appreciating the true value of water are how we can ensure sustainability of our water supply.

    Obviously, the government did not heed this sound advice and went ahead with the dam construction. The outcome?

    A whitewater rafting haven has been sacrificed; one of the world's largest fire-fly colonies is threatened with extinction; an entire Orang Asli village has been relocated to a virtually inaccessible hill; and 600 hectares of lush river valley, once teeming with rare species of flora and fauna, have been inundated.

    It now appears that SOS Selangor's warning about the dangers of building a dam near a suspected seismic fault line is being borne out. Since the massive Sumatran earthquake of Dec 26 which spawned the killer tsunami, the water level in the Selangor Dam has steadily fallen to less than 40 percent.

    Six months ago, the dam operators commissioned a series of soil tests, worried that underground water will cause disastrous erosion in areas downstream of the dam. Rumours abound that there are serious technical problems with the dam's outlet pipes, and that water has been leaking out at an alarming rate.

    And now the Selangor Infrastructure and Public Facilities Permanent Committee (as reported in The Sun and The Star on Sept 16) has acknowledged that the Selangor dam is at the "caution level" of 40 percent after an unseasonal dry spell. This nullifies the 'original' purpose of the dam, which was to offset the hazards of drought.

    The Selangor Infrastructure and Public Facilities Permananet Committee is "monitoring" the water level and will implement water rationing when the water level goes lower than 30 percent and is at the "critical" stage. This indicates that the government is just waiting for another 'water crisis' to happen instead of taking early action to plug possible leaks and drastically reduce water consumption.

    Committee chairman Abdul Fatah Iskandar concurred that a programme to reduce water wastage is needed. However, this would result in a direct conflict of interest, since his committee is working closely with private water supply concessionaires (Splash, Puas and Syabas) whose profits are based on the amount of water they supply.

    It is a clear-cut case of corporate versus public interest. As in the case of the Selangor Dam project, corporate interests seem to invariably win.

    Will the present 'drought' be used as an excuse to expedite the multi-billion Pahang-Selangor Interstate Water Transfer project, justifying the proposed Kelau Dam in Pahang and a water tunnel across the Titiwangsa Range?

    This sort of short-term 'band-aid solutions' benefit only the companies awarded construction tenders. It certainly does not address the problem at its source, viz., gross disregard of the ecosystem and criminal mismanagement of our precious natural resources.

    The writers represent SOS Selangor .

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