Visitor No since 22-10-98
Tapping a hidden asset Print E-mail
Thursday, 22 March 2018

by Salleh Buang

PENINSULAR Malaysia receives an average annual rainfall of between 2,500 and 3,000 mm, much of it going underground and subsequently flowing into lakes and rivers.

Dams, pipelines and irrigation canals built over the years have diverted water from these same lakes and rivers to meet the demands of domestic consumption, industrial use and agricultural activities.

At one time enjoying sufficient water resources, we have now become a country faced with A shortage of water.

Saim Suratnam of the National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia said groundwater constitutes only 1.2 per cent of the water supply in Malaysia, with the remainder dependent on surface water.

The major users of groundwater in the country are Kelantan, as its public water supply system, and Selangor, for its industrial use.

Shahrizaila Abdullah of Academy of Sciences Malaysia says water resources management in this country had focused on surface water or groundwater separately, as if they are distinct entities.

In reality, anything done to one affects the other. Withdrawal of water from streams can affect groundwater, and groundwater extraction can reduce water in lakes, rivers, streams or wetlands.

Any effective water resources management system must be based on understanding the linkages between groundwater and surface water.

Shahrizaila believes that not enough efforts have been made to promote the exploitation, management and conservation of groundwater.

As groundwater is found under the surface, stored in a geologic formation called an “aquifer”, it is a hidden asset — out of sight and consequently out of mind.

Water management experts predict that by 2020, water use in Malaysia will increase to 16,500 million litres per day (MLD), with groundwater use only at 3.4 per cent of total water use, at 450 MLD. This begs the question: do we need a federal law to enable us make better use of this virtually untapped water resource? I

n 2002, the Minerals and Geoscience Malaysia Department had issued the “Guidelines for Well Drilling, Groundwater Abstraction and Monitoring”, meant to assist state water authorities to regulate groundwater well drilling, abstraction and monitoring.

Under the guidelines, any person who intends to bore, dig, drill or construct a well for the purpose of abstracting groundwater must apply for a licence.

Any person who intends to deepen or enlarge a well must also apply for a licence. Drilling and well construction can be carried out only by registered drillers. Licences issued are valid for 12 months but may be extended or renewed.

Datuk Roger Tan, former commissioner of the Water Services Commission (SPAN), in June said that a federal law dealing with water matters — management and preservation of rivers, water catchment areas, groundwater, lakes and dams and the prevention of pollution — “is long overdue”. He added that the “current fragmented legislative framework is unhealthy” because there were vast disparities in the penalties imposed by different states in protecting their water resources.

Under the Federal Constitution, water is under the states’ jurisdiction (Schedule 9, List II, Item 6).

Three states — Sabah, Pahang and Kedah — have their own Water Resources Enactment, while Selangor has its Waters Management Enactment.

The revised Waters Act of 1920, applicable in Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Selangor, Penang and Melaka, and the Federal Territory, has a narrow legislative purpose, as it is “an act to provide for the control of rivers and streams” (as stated in its long title).

Under the Kedah Water Resources Enactment No 2 of 2008, groundwater is defined in section 2 as “the subsurface water that occurs beneath the surface in soils and geologic formations”.

Section 2 also contains definitions of other important terms, including water body, river basin, contamination, water abstraction, water resources, and wetland.

The enactment contains 95 sections spread out over 15 parts.

The enactment establishes the Water Resources Board (Part II) and the Water Resources Fund as well as the Water Development Fund (Part III).

Section 24 states that “no person shall abstract water from any water body unless licensed to do so by the Water Resources Director”. The term “water body” is defined to include any river, lake, wetland, groundwater and other bodies of water.

Part VI deals with protection of water resources (control of contamination, licence to discharge effluents, erosion and storm water control), while Part X prescribes the procedures for licensing and contains provisions relating to the Appeal Tribunal.

Part XII deals with enforcement, and Part XIII provides for offences and penalties.

The 2008 Enactment repeals the earlier Kedah Waters Enactment 1923 and Kedah Water Supply Enactment 1991. In my opinion, it is a comprehensive legislation on water resources management.

Under the Federal Constitution, “land” (like water) is under the jurisdiction of states.

In early times, there was a uniform land law for the four former Federated Malay States (known as the Land Code 1928), while each of the five non-Federated Malay States had its own land enactments.

That, however, did not prevent Parliament from passing the National Land Code 1965 under Article 76(4) of the Constitution. The same approach can be adopted if we wish to enact a uniform federal law on water resources management.

Our legislation (the enactments in Kedah and the other states as well Act 418) can serve as a starting point for working on a new uniform and federal Water Resources Act to manage our water resources, both the visible surface water and the hidden groundwater.

It may be necessary to revisit the National Water Resources Policy (formulated in 2011 to cover the period of 2010 to 2050) and the National Water Services Commission, which was set up more than a decade ago.

I am reminded of what Benjamin Franklin once said: “We never know the worth of water until the well is dry.”

The writer formerly served the Attorney-General’s Chambers before he left for practice, the corporate sector and, then, academia

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