Friday, 7 November 2014

The Gomen and the residents of Cameron Highlands ought to get their act together to avert another #BanjirRinglet2014

Another Flood Tragedy in Ringlet 2014 about a year from the 2013 flooding:

After the October 2013 flooding the Star carried this article on November 4, 2013...which showed that TNB is fighting a losing battle for a long time against nature, land clearing and logging, haphazard farming methods and rubbish being thrown in the river finding its way to the lake:

EXCLUSIVE: CAMERON HIGHLANDS: The Sultan Abu Bakar hydroelectric dam reservoir is a major flood disaster waiting to happen.
Reckless farming practices over the years have caused major silting and rubbish to clog up the dam, taking a toll on the structure.
It can only hold up to a third of its maximum capacity now – a mere 1.5 million cubic metres instead of a maximum 4.6 million cubic metres.
This means excess water in the reservoir, known as Lake Ringlet, could reach the danger level more quickly than planned for, especially in the event of downpours.
At that point, the water would be released either manually in controlled stages or automatically if it reached the dam’s maximum overflow point.
This would endanger the settlements in the valley below, depending on how much water is released and the speed at which it flows down.

There is also another report on November 15, 2013 by Floodlist:

The Cameron Highlands region in west central Malaysia was developed as a ‘hill station’ or high elevation holiday resort/retreat in the 1930’s by colonial officials, following the establishment of an agricultural research station there in 1925. Apart from being a retreat for bureaucrats from the heat of summer in the lowlands, the area was found to be suitable for growing tea and fruit.

Following independence in 1957, the Lake Ringlet reservoir (part of the Sultan Abu Bakar Dam) on the Sundai (River) Bertam was commissioned in 1963 as part of the 262MW Cameron Highlands-Batang Padang Hydro-electric Scheme. The Dam is 39.6m high and impounds water from a 183 square km catchment in the highlands.

The dam, with its four spillways, is one of the oldest in the country. Water from the dam is normally channeled via a tunnel to an underground power station further downstream. In order to protect the river banks that hold the dam wall in place from rapid erosion caused by overtopping of the water, and potential catastrophic failure of the dam, the four spillway doors are designed to open automatically when the water level rises beyond the safety limit. Since this would release a large amount of water into the river below, it is standard operating procedure to open one gate at a time as the water level rises, after sounding warning sirens to alert residents in the valley below the wall. Sequential opening of spillway doors reduces the amount of water being released from the reservoir, in order to reduce the risk of flooding.

In October 2013, flash-flooding in the catchment of the Ringlet reservoir coupled with existing siltation resulted in a rapid rise in the water level, necessitating such a step. Unfortunately, even the controlled release of water resulted in the flooding of 100 houses in the village Kg Bertam Valley on the Sundai Bertam below the dam, and led to the death of four people.

The release of water was implemented according to standard operating procedure, so why did it cause such calamity?

In reality there are a number of contributing factors. 

These include a more rapid rise in water level than usual, owing to deforestation, 

increasingly intensive agricultural activities and in some cases poorly managed agricultural practices in the dam’s catchment area. 

This is coupled with poor land use practices and the encroachment of urban development into the flood plain below the dam.

Siltation and increased run–off has been an ongoing concern at Ringlet for some years. TNB Cameron Highlands Power Stations General Manager Mustafa Hashim has stated that the Ringlet reservoir’s water holding capacity has greatly decreased due to the high volume of rubbish, sand and silt sediment on the lake floor, and that siltation over the years from land clearing in the Cameron Highlands has resulted in the need for a near-continuous de-silting programme. He stated that TNB, the electricity supply authority, had spent some RM80 million (US$25m) worth on dredging sediment material, an operation carried out once every five years. It also spent another RM20 million (US$6.25m) on annual maintenance works. Mustafa, who has been working at the Cameron Highlands since 2011, said the water level in the dam had also risen rapidly due to the presence of the white plastic sheets seen in farms all over Cameron Highlands, adding that these caused the rainwater to flow swiftly into the rivers without first being filtered by the ground. 

Read the article in full  here.

This what I wrote in my blog on October 25, 2013:

The mud flood at Cameron Highland, need more done to avert future tragedies (updated 29.10.2013)

This is a report by Floodlist dated July 11, 2014 a few months before the latest Ringlet flooding in November this year:

Flood Risk Prompts Malaysia to Tackle Illegal Deforestation

Cameron Highlands - tea and forest. Photo:  Khairil Yusof
Cameron Highlands – tea and forest. Photo: Khairil Yusof

Lake Ringlet Flood Disaster, 2013

The Cameron Highlands is also know for the Lake Ringlet flood disaster of 2013. In October that year, flash-flooding in the catchment of the Lake Ringlet reservoir, coupled with existing siltation resulted in a rapid rise in the water level of the reservoir. Authorities believed a controlled release of water was necessary. Sadly this resulted in the flooding of 100 houses as the water ripped through the village Kg Bertam Valley on the Sundai Bertam below the dam. Four people were killed.
Car and flood debris. Photo Credit FMT
Car and flood debris. Photo Credit FMT

Illegal Deforestation

Many questions were asked about “What went wrong at Lake Ringlet?“.
With some similarities to the flood disaster of Uttarakhand (see Why Uttarakhand? that had occurred in India just a few months earlier, one of the reasons the Lake Ringlet flood was so rapid and severe was soil erosion caused by illegal tree felling and deforestation.
In his article for FloodList about the Lake Ringlet disaster, Ed Hill said:
As far back as mid-2012, the group Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands (REACH) began raising the alarm about deforestation in the area. In an October 2012 report, REACH president R. Ramakrishnan said he had submitted a letter in August 2012 to Pahang Mentri Besar (Chief Minister) Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob, complaining about clearing of land in Pahang. He believed that most of the clearings were illegal. Even if permits had been issued in some cases, he added, the conditions were not being adhered to in accordance with the Land Conservation Act 1960.
Rampant tree felling seems to have been going on for several months before this despite authorities seizing heavy equipment including backhoes and excavators, with the culprits working at night deep in the forests.
Example of deforested hillsides in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Photo: Kelantan
Example of deforested hillsides in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Photo: Kelantan

New Instances of Illegal Land Clearing in Cameron Highlands

In the wake of the Lake Ringlet flood (2013), authorities did all they could to end illegal deforestation in the area. Sadly it seems the halt was temporary. Several new illegal land clearing sites have recently been detected this year at the Blue Valley-Kampung Raja border, Kuala Terla, Brinchang and 49 Miles areas. Much of the forest in these areas are all on on Pahang government land. According to local eye witnesses, the illegal foresters even put up “no trespassing” signs while moving in various bits of heavy machinery. Local farmers know when work on a new illegal clearance is taking place as it causes muddy water to flow into their farms whenever it rained. The trees that used to prevent the mud and water flow are now gone.

Government Action

Reports and complaints by local farmers (many farmers suffered in the Lake Ringlet floods) have now prompted Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel to visit the area and order an investigation. The Minister took a helicopter ride over the region where he could see for himself the severity of the land clearances.
In response, Palanivel now aims to set up training bases on the highlands for “RELA Corps” (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia / Volunteers of Malaysian People), army and law enforcement agencies.
The newly-cleared sites will also be rehabilitated, although it is not certain how long this will take and how much damage, including soil erosion, has already been done.
In response to the renewed illegal deforestation activities in the Cameron Highlands, Professor Madya Dr Tajul Anuar Jamaluddin of The National University of Malaysia told Bernama:
“This area is hilly and so the likely occurrence of soil erosion or landslides is very high if illegal tree felling continues.
“This is because there are no more undergrowth to act as a soil binder to strengthen the soil in the area,”
Deforestation may not be the sole cause of floods, but it amplifies flood risk and severity, particularly in hilly regions of the developing world. According to Tajul, plant and tree roots stabilise slopes by binding the soil particles and also aid soil drainage.
Read the article  in full here.
My Thots:
No time to point fingers, Government and the residents of Cameron Highland must act now or more lives will be lost in the coming heavy rain seasons. We just can't disturb nature expecting nothing will happen to us.

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