Dr. Ir. Ts. Hj. Mohmad Asari Daud
WORLD WATER DAY 2022: Groundwater – Making the Invisible Visible
“Groundwater – a sustainable strategic commodity” In Malaysia, traditionally we have been dependent on surface water as source of our water supply for domestic, irrigation and industrial needs. This dependency has caused contrasting situation in the water availability during different periods of the year. Increasingly, we experience plenty of water during the monsoon that has often led to flooding and there is little water during the drier period
Due to the abundance of surface waters in the river systems, groundwater has not been much exploited except in Kelantan, Selangor and some parts of Sabah, Sarawak, Pahang and Perlis. Data from the Malaysia Water Industry Guide on public water supply indicated that current usage of groundwater is limited, estimated to contribute about 250 MLD or only 1.3% of total water supply annually.
In the long run, groundwater in Malaysia is a sustainable strategic commodity. The National Water Resources Study, 2000–2050 noted that the total water demand is forecasted to increase by 63% from 10,833 million cubic meters (MCM) in 2000 to 17,675 MCM in 2050. Over this time frame, increasing water shortage is expected to be continuous over 4 months period at the extremity of a prolonged drought, during which time, the naturally unregulated rivers could be critically short of supply to meet the required water demands. Looking back, the impact of climate change on our water security and sustainability had probably not been fully understood at the time of the Study.
Due to failure to take advantage of the vast groundwater potentials available, groundwater development in Malaysia had been moving at a slow pace. This in comparison to many countries around the world that have gone far into exploiting the groundwater for their water needs. Denmark for example has 100% groundwater utilization, Austria 98%, Thailand 80%, China 78%, USA 50% and Malaysia less than 3%.
It is for certain that the prudent development of groundwater is able to meet the national water requirements while reducing the impact of drought in the urban and rural environments. The current lack of Groundwater Development is mainly due to the still fragmented policy, legal and institutional framework at federal and state level over water thus holding back a more holistic approach to manage the water resources in the country. There is also the failure to recognize the potential of groundwater resources arising from lack of full investigation and assessment of the resource in the country plus the misconception that groundwater exploitation is not sustainable for the country.
The Way Forward
Surface and groundwater resource and their conjunctive use to meet water demand in the country should be considered in an integrated and holistic way. It is important that the availability of groundwater in each state in Malaysia, in terms of quantity and quality for various needs should be assessed and evaluated and identify groundwater requirements for various needs. Furthermore, the Ministry should take steps to integrate the various studies of water resources with groundwater studies to get a proper perspectives for better management of the water resources in the country and provide emphasis on utilising the groundwater where available.
Groundwater is likely to play a bigger role as a supplementary or alternative water supply going forward as we believe we have an abundant groundwater resources to be exploited. The perils of climate change are also threatening the nation's water security and need to be taken into consideration. Hence, its time that groundwater resource should be given a more priority policy direction in helping to overcome the imbalanced exploitation between groundwater and surface water. Last but not least, conservation measures must be enacted to protect the resource by incorporating the protection of groundwater in landuse planning, which is very vital in ensuring the sustainability of the resource.