Rajang River is drying up
By PHILIP HII
SIBU: Less than two weeks after the logjam disaster in Rajang River, the country’s longest river is again a cause for concern for people living along its banks. Express boats have not been able to ply the Sibu-Belaga-Sibu routes since Friday as the river is drying up due to the current dry spell. The only option left for travellers is the gruelling journey on the 190km Bintulu-Bakun road. Floating pontoons at the Kapit Express Boat Wharf along Khoo Peng Loong Road here are now resting on a muddy river bed.
“This time the water level went down really fast. Just 10 days ago, it almost reached the road level, a drop of more than 2m,” boat skipper Lau Ah Kuok said.
Lau said he believed the drastic change in the water level was partly due to the impoundment of the 205m-high Bakun Dam which began last Wednesday. The flooding of the dam, which is South-East Asia’s largest, is estimated to take seven months and in the process, would flood 69,000ha of land.
Social activist Wong Meng Chuo, who has a masters degree in Environmental Management from the Imperial College in London, said he was worried that a prolonged drought would pose severe environmental and ecological consequences below Bakun Dam. Wong said the Rajang River was denied one-third of the water source with the impoundment of the dam.
“Firstly, river navigation in some areas will stop due to low water. Secondly, salty water from the ocean would come up to as far as Sibu. Thirdly, marine and river life will be affected,” Wong pointed out.
He explained that with less water in the river, there would be less oxygen which could cause some species of fish to die. Wong added there could also be more landslides along the riverbanks as the soil structure would be different. He said it was unlikely that the impoundment of the dam would stop because it would incur a loss of RM330,000 per day to do so. The low water level is also a cause for concern for the RV Orient Pandaw, the only cruise ship here.
“If the dry weather continues, I am worried our ship would have difficulties navigating near the Pelagus rapids,” the ship’s purser Neville Joseph said, adding that October to December were peak seasons with an average of 40 passengers per trip.
Durin vegetable farmer Kong Chiek Wak is worried the prolonged dry weather will seriously affect his vegetables.
“We only have a small water pump. It would be difficult to pump water from the Rajang for farm use if the water level is too low,” Kong explained.
The low water level will also affect the transportation of logs by barges and cargo boats from Kapit-Baleh areas to the sawmills in Sibu or for export through Tanjung Manis. Sibu Water Board general manager Daniel Wong said he was monitoring the situation closely.
“The water supply in Sibu is normal and there is no cause for alarm now,” he said. At about 4.30pm yesterday, heavy rain fell for about an hour on Sibu after a dry week.