Danger Still Looms In Bertam Valley

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CAMERON HIGHLANDS, Nov 2 – Tasik Ringlet in Bertam Valley, here, the centre of a mud flood which claimed four lives and damaged more than 100 houses a year ago, is still swamped with garbage and sediments, despite diligent efforts by Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) to clear up the lake. Now with the rainy season in full swing, the possibility of a similar tragedy recurring is looming.

A survey by Bernama showed that agricultural activities are still flourishing on the hill slopes in the vicinity, with new farms having been opened. Residents who fled the area after the mud flood have returned to set up their homes on the reserve land along the banks of Sungei Bertam, oblivious to the grave danger they are exposed to.

Going by the current state Tasik Ringlet is in, it is very obvious that much more has to be done by the authorities concerned to avert another tragedy. Last year’s mud flood took place in the early hours of Oct 23 when Sungai Bertam overflowed after water was released from the 50-year-old Sultan Abu Bakar Hydroelectric Dam in Ringlet. The fact is Tasik Ringlet, the reservoir that holds water to power up the dam, can no longer sustain water to its original capacity. What is wrong then?

DREDGING WORKS BEING CARRIED OUT

Dredging works to excavate silt and garbage from Tasik Ringlet are currently being carried out by TNB. This year alone, it is spending RM40 million to excavate some 750,000 cubic metres of sediments from the man-made lake – the highest yearly expenditure so far compared with the RM180 million it had spent carrying out similar works since 2001. TNB generation division senior general manager (asset management) Azman Talib said the excavations works were complicated and involved high costs.

He said only one-third of Tasik Ringlet contained water, the remaining two-thirds being clogged by garbage and sediments, enough “to fill 100 football fields if stacked up to the height of a double-storey house!” Among the two metric tonnes of rubbish excavated from the lake every week are bottles, electrical gadgets, wooden apparatus, furniture, plastic roofing and even carcasses of animals.

WHAT WAS THE CAUSE OF THE MUD FLOOD?

Azman said the amount of domestic and agricultural wastes generated by the residents had increased 10-fold from 50 years ago. “In the 1960s, about 30,000 cubic metres of garbage and sediments used to enter the lake every year. Now the amount has soared to 300,000 to 500,000 cubic metres a year,” he pointed out.

Recalling last year’s tragedy, Azman said the sole water outlet from Tasik Ringlet had become completely clogged by garbage and sediments, and this had caused the dam’s water level to rise rapidly. “The unusually heavy rain and flash floods in Ringlet town had worsened the situation. “In the end, to avert an even worse disaster, we had to manually release the water from the dam to prevent the spill gates from opening should the water reach the 3,513 feet level.”

Recounting his experience, Mohd Faizal Mohamed, 32, who was among those affected by the mud flood, said when he heard the siren he and his wife quickly grabbed their new-born baby and rushed up to the third floor of the government quarters they lived in, which was located close to the Ringlet reservoir. Mohd Faizal, a teacher at Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina (SJKC) Lembah Bertam, said he could see the water level rising rapidly, adding that all the other residents at the building also rushed up to the third floor.

ENSURING SAFETY OF RESIDENTS

Azman feels that the Sungai Bertam reserve land situated close to the dam ought to be declared out-of-bounds to dwellers. He said people should also be barred from carrying out economic activities there due to the imminent danger of floods in the event water has to be released from the dam due to exceptional rainfall. He said TNB, on its part, has erected two types of signboards in the area warning people of the inherent dangers at Bertam Valley.

It has also spent RM35,000 to install 35 warning signs along a 10-kilometre stretch in the vicinity of Sungai Bertam. These signs are hard to miss as they are placed 500 metres apart. TNB has also installed four additional sirens about six kilometres from the Ringlet reservoir, at a cost of RM380,000, with the siren sound and colour of the warning lights having received the stamp of approval from the local agencies and residents’ representatives.

“The siren will issue three types of warning. The first siren, to be beeped in intervals, is to alert residents with the warning light being orange in colour; the second time, the siren will beep continuously with the warning light turning red; and when the water is being released (from the dam), the siren will beep continuously while the lights are flashed in red and orange colours,” explained Azman. He also revealed that TNB and TNB Research Sdn Bhd are currently developing an early warning system, at a cost of RM1.9 million, for Tasik Ringlet.

The system works by providing early information on the velocity and amount of water in the lake, which will enable TNB to predict any unusual water flow and provide ample warning to the residents in the event the water from the dam had to be released manually. According to Azman, TNB has also carried out telemetric surveillance to gauge the amount of rainfall at the catchment areas and the velocity of water flowing into the reservoir.

EDUCATING RESIDENTS

TNB has also conducted various programmes with the cooperation of the National Security Council to help residents to prepare themselves to deal with any eventuality. Among the programmes held were briefings for residents, and the students and teachers at SRJK Lembah Bertam, to inform them of the dangers posed by the dam.

They were also exposed to evacuation procedures and other types of drills. Prior to the mud flood incident last year, similar awareness programmes were conducted but the resident’s response was rather lukewarm. Resident Tan Soo Ngau, 40, said he now knows clearly what procedures he has to follow the next time he hears the siren.

“I’m grateful to TNB for training us on what to do when we hear the siren. In the past, we had no idea what we had to do each time we heard the siren,” he said. Fellow residents Lim Yew Lee, 58, and Fatimah Ahmad, 42, are satisfied that adequate signs have been put up in the area to warn residents. They said they were sure residents of Bertam Valley were more likely to heed the warning sirens now that they have participated in TNB’s safety campaigns and drills.

Kampung Lembah Bertam village head Wong Sok Chai, 57, said the residents were now more prepared to face any eventuality and were aware of the precautions they had to take. “The state government should also play its part by controlling the clearing of land (for farming) while the agency concerned should take necessary action to deepen Sungai Bertam,” he added.

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