Gazetting water catchments
Published on: Sunday, September 18, 2016
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Penampang: The process of gazetting the Babagon water catchment area by the State Government to ensure uninterrupted safe and reliable water supply to consumers in the west coast has begun.The proposed gazette would be the start of the State Government's move to also gazette all the other 20 water catchment areas in the State with the interest of the health and security aspects of the citizens in mind.

The earmarked area includes the 19-year-old Babagon Dam that supplies water to a million or more consumers in five districts, namely Kota Kinabalu, Tuaran, Papar, Putatan and Penampang.

The biggest dam in the State had experienced low levels of water as recent as the first few months this year due a prolonged drought spell.

Unsustainable human activities have been blamed as the main reason which the proposed move to gazette the area aims to address and also ensure the condition of the catchment area is able to sustainably feed water to the dam for years to come.

It is understood that presently two villages namely Kg Kalasunan and Kg Babagon Toki are situated well inside the catchment area which pose a risk to water security. There had been incidents of individuals falling into the dam and drowning while fishing.

The latest was in June, this year, when a 17-year-old boy drowned during a fishing-cum-picnic trip with his family.

Of late, the district has also been bogged with environmental issues including those caused by hill cutting and land clearing activities for economic purpose.

According to Water Resource Unit Head of the Natural Resource Office (NRO) Ag Shahminan Sahari, guidelines especially those pertaining to human activities within the area when the gazette comes into force, has been drafted by the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID).

"The draft will be reported to the Water Resources Council during its meeting in November," he told the Daily Express after making his presentation on the proposed gazette of the Babagon Water Catchment area to community leaders during a workshop held in Kg Madziang, Saturday.

More than 20 JKKK chiefs from various villages surrounding the catchment area including non-governmental organisation representatives and Penampang District Officer Luvita Koisun attended the one-day workshop on River Environmental Education Programme (REEP) which was organised by the Penampang District Office in its capacity as chair of the District Water Catchment Areas Committee.

The workshop was supported technically by the NRO, JICA-SDBEC, DID, Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Parks, Jetama (water producer) and State Water Department all of whom made their respective presentations to the participants under the "Love Your Catchment Area" theme.

Ag Shahminan said the proposed gazetting was made under requirement of the Sabah Water Resources Enactment 1998 that the community and stakeholders have to be informed prior to any decision.

He explained that the initial phase basically involves announcing the area ­to be gazetted and the proposed guidelines after which the matter would go to the District Office and back to the NRO for finalization.

"We want the community leaders to know where and why the need for the area to be gazetted," he said.

He could not say how long the process would take except assuring that the affected community would have the opportunity to give their feedback, views and objections.

"The Government will ensure that the community's economic resources will not be disrupted as a result of the gazette process," he assured.

Community leaders at the workshop also heard a presentation on Payment for Ecosystem Services by Datuk Eric Juin from Green Spider, an environment consultant.

He said study is ongoing to identify the type of services and what their benefits will be for the community.

Meanwhile, DID Water Resources Management Division Senior Assistant Director Miklin Ationg, said the gazette would involve zoning of area as protected and conservation.

Under conservation he said the traditional community will be allowed to remain but their activities will be subjected to specified guidelines to ensure they are sustainable.

JKKK Chairman of Kg Tampasak Nelson Malon said villagers can understand the need to gazette the area but at the same time want their interests and livelihood to also be protected.

He said hundreds of villagers were relocated in 1993 and 1994 to make way for the Babagon Dam project and have since been living in an area just below it.

"As you can see our village now does not even exist on the map. So what we want to be speeded up is to gazette the area where we're living now as a village reserve first and we want its name to remain as Kg Tampasak," he said.

He also said their demand for compensation resulting from being relocated have yet to be met.

"We've been told that unless the water catchment is gazetted no compensation can be made.

Now it's in the process but we're still not sure if by the time it is fully gazetted we will still be entitled for compensation," he added.

The next phase of the proposed water catchment gazette process would be a community consultation exercise in all the affected villages, expected this year.

Experts have described water catchment areas as a sponge that stores huge amount of water underground that can readily meet the demand of a huge population for many years if remain undestroyed.

Other than the state of the Babagon Dam, the condition of the Moyog River has been a cause of public concern.

Human activities upstream have been blamed for causing the river to be muddy, especially during a downpour.


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