THE 3,000 hectare lake in Bukit Merah, Kerian, in the West Malaysian state of Perak is drying up because of the El-Niño heatwave and authorities are deciding on whether to declare the area a disaster zone due to the severity of the situation.
The government is doing an elaborate study based on receding water levels before making the decision. The Bukit Merah dam supplies water to over 250,000 people.
Shahidan Kassim, the minister who oversees the National Security Council, said the case required further deliberation as emergency declarations usually involved other natural disasters such as large-scale fires or floods.
“When such a declaration is made, it means they (the affected residents) have the right to receive aid such as compassionate payment,” he was quoted saying in The Star Online.
A call to declare the area a disaster zone was made by the state government over the weekend.
Due to the dry spell, residents of the Kerian district surrounding the lake face water rationing if the water level at the Bukit Merah dam drops to 5.1 metres, the New Straits Times reported.
State Public Utilities, Infrastructure, Energy and Water Committee chairman Zainol Fadzi Paharudin said it would only take less than a month for the water level at the man-made lake to reach critical level if the weather remained hot and dry.
On Monday, Zainol said the water level at the lake had reached 5.97m, which was very alarming.
“This is the worst in history,” he was quoted saying.
Cloud-seeding efforts to induce rainfall since April 12 had not worked and the water retention area had not seen rain for several weeks.
“At present, the reservoir is supplying 120 million liters of water daily to two treatment plants in Gunung Semanggol, which is lower than the previous 150 million liters daily before,” he told the local daily.
The dryspell has also affected the tourism industry in the area. A spokesperson from the Bukit Merah Lake Town resort said the number of tourists had halved since the heatwave began.
She said the operations of boats, which are a main attraction at the resort, have also been halted. However, she maintained that the resort’s water- and eco-themed parks were still open.