Johor’s Sembrong Dam ‘slowly dying’

KLUANG: The Sembrong Dam, a major water source for some 120,000 people in the districts of Kluang and parts of Batu Pahat, is “slowly dying”.

Indiscriminate farming and agriculture activities around the dam, not unlike in Cameron Highlands, is causing an algae bloom, that threatens to halt water production and the existence of all marine life in it.

The dam, which was previously built for flood mitigation in 1984 and managed by the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID), has been providing water for human consumption since 1990.

It covers some 775ha and supplies some 55 million litres of treated water via its Sembrong Barat water treatment plant daily.

Due to the indiscriminate farming, agriculture activities and planting of oil palm trees, which cover at least 87% of the dam’s 130 sq km catchment area, the dam is slowly “dying” due to Eutrophication or better known as algae bloom.

According to a recent research done by UTM, the phosphorous levels at the dam was 92.28% on Carison Trophic Index compared with normal levels of 70% to 80%.

Phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium are widely used in fertilisers and pesticides.

The dam is surrounded by oil palm plantations, farming, and the 3480ha Kluang Modern Farming.

The algae bloom has started to cause problems when treating water, as they clog up the filters, causing the production to be reduced or halted and finally resulting in frequent water disruptions to residents.

Under great threat: Dark waste water from a retention pond belonging to a pig farm located within the catchment area of the Sembrong Dam in Kluang
Under great threat: Dark waste water from a retention pond belonging to a pig farm located within the catchment area of the Sembrong Dam in Kluang

Last year there were 244 disruptions at the Sembrong Barat water treatment plant.

UTM Water Research Alliance dean of research Prof Dr Zulkifli Yusof described the situation as “critical” due to the high phosphorous levels which he attributed to indiscriminate use of fertilisers.

“Eutrophication happens when there is too much nutrients from agriculture and farming waste in the water.

“Once it becomes worse, it will deplete the oxygen level and all the marine life will die.

“The thick layer of algae will also block the sunlight which is the source of energy for plankton and fish,” he said, adding that the lake would then turn green.

Dr Zulkifli (pic), who led a team of six researchers from UTM, to mainly study the erosion level at the Sembrong Dam for the past three years stumbled upon the findings when they were studying its water quality.

Dr Zulkifli
Dr Zulkifli

He said that while the algae would be killed during the water treatment process, it would make the treatment process more costly.

Malaysian Nature Society Johor branch chairman Vincent Chow said that the problem at the Sembrong Dam has been around for years.“This is a disaster waiting to happen similar to Cameron Highlands where due to indiscriminate farming and agriculture activities our water source gets polluted.

“To me, Sembrong lake is a big waste pond from farming activities, animal waste and oil palm plantation,” he said, adding that if nothing drastic was done to protect the state’s water sources, Johor would have to start purchasing water from neighbouring Pahang in the next 20 years.


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