Expert says Sunday water disruption a wake-up call to beef up preparation for dry spell

SUNGAI PETANI: The Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) should thoroughly investigate the faulty Sungai Muda barrage gate that led to Sunday's water supply disruptions affecting three southern Kedah districts.

An expert in non-revenue water who spoke to the New Straits Times on condition of anonymity said the incident "should not have happened" since all assets in water resources management and supply distribution should be foolproof.

"To our knowledge, all critical and sensitive assets in water resources management and supply distribution should be foolproof.

"Automated assets in particular, should be equipped with sensors to trigger the alarm if water surpasses danger level or drops to below critical level.

"We can't say for sure what happened during the incident, but the investigations should cover all possible angles, including mechanical and human errors," he said.

He added that the authorities should also look into the maintenance records of the assets concerned.

"Regardless of their age, being it 10 or 50 years, the main issue is maintenance. With proper maintenance, we should be able to minimise the risk," the expert said.

The expert said in the wake of the Sunday incident, all water concessionaires should thoroughly assess their critical and sensitive assets ahead of the upcoming dry spell period.

"We can't control the weather, but the onus is on the concessionaires to do whatever is necessary to minimise the risk of water supply disruption during the dry spell.

"The Sunday incident is a wake-up call to all parties concerned to beef up their preparation for the dry spell," he said.

Consumers Association of Kedah (Cake) president Yusrizal Yusoff echoed similar views, urging all relevant authorities concerned to prepare for the dry spell.

"Tens of thousands of consumers and businesses are affected by the Sunday disruptions, and sadly this happened as we were discussing preparing for the dry spell.

"We hope the authorities concerned will look into the incident seriously and step up preparation for the dry spell," he told the NST.

Yusrizal also urged the state water concessionaire Syarikat Air Darul Aman Sdn Bhd (Sada) to improve its public announcement method and manage consumer complaints.

"The consumers can understand that supply disruptions are bound to happen during the upcoming dry spell in certain areas.

"However, more importantly, Sada needs to improve its public announcement system to inform the consumers effectively so that they can prepare.

"We have also been getting complaints from consumers in Kulim that they were not getting a prompt reply from Sada during the Sunday supply disruption.

"Other than that, Sada must roll out a comprehensive contingency plan to ensure that water supply still reaches the affected areas through tankers in the event of water supply disruptions during the upcoming dry spell," he said.

Meanwhile, Ismail Abdullah, 48, said the Sungai Muda water level rose since yesterday evening.

"Thankfully, the river water level is recovering to normal, and we can carry out our routine fishing trips," he said.

Ismail said some 80 fishermen at the Kampung Jambatan Merdeka were spooked when the river's water level suddenly dropped on Sunday morning.

"We had the shock of our life. We are preparing for the dry spell but did not expect the river water to drop to such a low level overnight," he said.

Ismail said the fishermen hoped the authorities would ensure the incident would not recur as it affected their livelihood.

On Sunday, nearly 252,000 accounts in Kuala Muda, Kulim and parts of Baling faced an unscheduled water supply disruption due to a sudden drop in Sungai Muda water levels due to a faulty barrage gate.

Following the incident, Sada had to suspend Sungai Petani/Pinang Tunggal water treatment plant (WTP) and the Kulim Hi-Tech WTP, resulting in the water supply disruption.

Yesterday, Kedah Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) director Nasser Salim was reported as saying the department was investigating the cause of damage on the automatic barrage gate sensor, which led the barrage gate to 'self-unlatch', causing excessive amounts of water to flow straight into the ocean.

He had said there were 14 barrage gate bays for Sungai Muda, but only one - Bay 14- had a damaged automatic sensor.

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