News: El Nino may spark water crisis

NST, 1 June 2014

KUALA LUMPUR: THE National Water Services Commission (SPAN) has urged water operators and stakeholders to be prepared for a water crisis in the event of a dry spell caused by the El Nino phenomenon.

Its chief executive officer, Datuk Teo Yen Hua, said the commission had met the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD) on May 8 to brief water operators on the weather forecast.

“The severity of the extreme dry weather conditions will reduce availability of raw water resources, which is under purview of the state governments. Nevertheless, measures have been taken to mitigate possible impact.”

The MMD has warned of a dry spell, which will begin as early as next month and last between six and 18 months, as sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean warm to levels similar to the onset of the El Nino phenomenon.

Teo said SPAN had called for water operators and stakeholders to:

MONITOR the water levels in rivers and dams;

CONTINUE cloud seeding;

ACTIVATE Water Supply Contingency Plans if water levels in rivers and dams decrease to a critical stage;

PREPARE for additional water supply relief facilities such as water tankers and static tanks to areas that are facing shortage of water supply;

IDENTIFY other possible alternative raw water sources; and,

IMPLEMENT water rationing when there is insufficient raw water.

Teo said SPAN had been assured by the state government and Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS) that the raw water quality from proposed alternative sources such as hybrid off-river augmentation system is safe.

“LUAS has sent water samples to the Chemistry Department and the Health Ministry for testing, and found that the water quality complies with the requirements.”

MMD commercial and corporate services division director Dr Mohd Hisham Mohd Anip said computer models surveyed by the World Meteorological Organisation suggested that El Nino thresholds would be reached by next month.

“If it occurs in July, it needs some time to interact with the atmosphere before the impact hits the country.

“The impact will probably begin in September or October over the eastern part of Borneo, which includes Sabah and parts of Sarawak, before spreading to the peninsula by year-end.

“However, the impact strictly depends on the intensity of the El Nino. Thus far, its intensity cannot be determined yet.”

He said strong El Nino could lead to a dry spell as a result of reduced rain clouds.

However, he said, the impact would be minimal when the El Nino was weak or moderate.

“We are monitoring the El Nino situation by getting information from international research centres such as the Japan Meteorological Agency, USA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Centre and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Any developments will be announced to the authorities for further action.”

Hisham said Malaysia would experience less rainfall during the southwest monsoon (late May to September), which could lead to forest fires, hot weather and decrease in water levels in dams.

“So far, our forecast indicates it will be a normal season for our country, except in June, where rainfall will be slightly below normal.”

Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia president S. Piarapakaran called for SPAN to mobilise the Emergency Response Plan to ensure sufficient water supply if the need for water rationing arose.

He said the Selangor government should stop sand-mining activities that might further pollute raw water in rivers and beef up storage capacities for raw water in retention ponds along the river basin (but not former mining pools as heavy metal contamination is a concern).

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