GEORGE TOWN: The Air Itam area may be on the brink of a water crisis as the dam there is running short of water, with slightly more than a month’s supply left.
The dam’s water level dropped to 39.4% last Sunday as increased pumping to offset losses from a burst pipe in Butterworth worsened the situation. It was at 67% on Jan 6 and over 80% a month ago.
It may be further hit by the dry weather normally prevalent during this time of the year, and increased demand during the Chinese New Year festivities, past data from the Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) shows.
The dam serves 170,000 residents in Air Itam, Paya Terubong, and parts of Green Lane on the island.
PBAPP told FMT it had requested cloud seeding over the dam.
“The dam’s capacity has breached Alert Level 2 with an effective capacity of 39.37%. We are in the midst of liaising with the state to carry out cloud seeding exercises during the coming inter-monsoon season,” its CEO, K Pathmanathan, said.
The first alert level is 50%, the second alert is 40%, and the third and final alarm is 30%.
Despite the challenges, the Air Itam dam has proved resilient in the past two months, sparing the greater Air Itam area the water cuts experienced in other parts of the state following works to repair and upgrade pipelines at the Sungai Dua water treatment plant and 22 other locations.
The dam had boasted an 83% capacity on Dec 1, before the Butterworth pipe rupture. However, as an emergency response to the rupture, the dam’s water production doubled from 22 million to 40 million litres a day, resulting in a drop to 67% on Jan 6.
The chief minister urged users at the time to be prudent as there was only two months’ supply of water left.
‘We should be alarmed’
Water Watch Penang president Chan Ngai Weng said alternative water sources should be channelled to the Air Itam dam.
“I am not sure whether PBAPP has linked water supply from other sources such as the Teluk Bahang dam and the Sungai Muda water treatment plant. If they haven’t, perhaps it is time to do so,” he said.
Chan, who is a water studies professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, told FMT the Chinese New Year period was usually the driest, and due to climate change, could “drag on for months”.
“Although we should be alarmed, it’s no use just worrying. The public should take proactive action towards becoming water resilient in facing whatever impending dry spells or water supply disruptions,” he said.
He said people should have storage tanks and rainwater harvesting systems installed, besides having water outlets fitted with saving devices.
Chan also said the authorities should not be over-reliant on cloud seeding, citing its unpredictable nature and the risk of unintended consequences such as floods in neighbouring areas.
“Even if you find the right type of clouds and manage to seed them, any change in wind speed and direction will send the clouds and rain elsewhere,” he said.