KUALA LUMPUR, March 7 — A water crisis that left parts of Selangor without supply for three weeks has not deterred the state administration from possibly degazetting forest reserves — vital water catchment zones for the Klang Valley — for a proposed highway.
Environmental activists are scrambling to rally the public in submitting objections to the opening up of four forest reserves in Selangor to make way for the 38.1km-llong East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE).
The state has proposed to degazette portions of the Ampang, Bukit Seputeh, Ulu Gombak and Ulu Langat forest reserves.
Malaysia Nature Society’s (MNS) head of conservation, Balu Perumal, pointed out that two of the four forest reserves, Ampang and Ulu Gombak, form part of the Selangor State Park and are important water catchments for the Klang Valley.
“This is part of the main range, Banjaran Titiwangsa, the catchment area for Selangor.
“If they are going to disturb this area, it will definitely disrupt the water supply and quality,” he told The Malay Mail Online when contacted.
Depleting water reserves due to a prolonged dry spell has forced authorities to begin water rationing in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Negri Sembilan this month.
The situation could also deteriorate as the hot and dry weather is expected to persist until the middle of this month, before possibly improving when the weather pattern changes to the wetter inter-monsoon season.
Balu said most of the 106.65 hectares of the proposed area earmarked for the degazettement is part of the Selangor State Park and a coalition made up of MNS, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia, Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES) and Save our Sungai (S.O.S.) Selangor is now on a petition drive to object to the encroachment into the park.
He said the coalition’s target is to get between 100,000 to 300,000 individuals to submit their protests to the Selangor Forestry Department.
“They say if you are a citizen staying within the district of Gombak and also Ulu Langat, then you can submit your objection, but for us the road is going to encroach into the Selangor State Park and this park is the third largest state park in the peninsula, after Taman Negara and Royal Belum.
“It's a huge area so there is definitely of national interest,” he said.
Selangor Tourism, Consumer Affairs and Environment executive councillor Elizabeth Wong said the public has until March 26 to submit their objections and pledged that every complainant will be heard during a public enquiry.
“I’m very sure there would be some effect [on the water catchment area], they have to come up with mitigation plan,” she said, adding that the Department of Environment (DoE) has not received an environment management plan as well as several necessary documents from the concessionaire.
This is despite a detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) being approved by the DoE late last year.
The Bukit Lanjan MP said there are requests to extend the objection deadline, but said she must first discuss the matter with the Forestry Department.
Seeking to deflect criticism, Wong said while the decision ultimately lies with the state government, it was the highway concessionaire that submitted the application to de-gazette the forest reserves.
It is understood that it was Dr Yunus Hairi, the executive councillor in charge of Youth and Sports, Infrastructure and Public Utilities, who tabled the proposal. He could not be reached for comment as he is abroad.
Wong stressed that while it is not easy for her as she is against the degazettement on principle, she said she has to be “professional” and hear all arguments.
The former activist will be on the panel for the public enquiry, along with a Selangor Water Management Authority (LUAS) representative, another from the state planning committee and experts from the Mineral and Geoscience Department, among others.
She said the state’s decision will depend on the strength of the people’s argument.
Wong noted that this is the country’s first public inquiry on degazetting forest reserves, as Selangor is the only state with such a law.
“Almost all the states in Malaysia are quite hesitant to put in the provision for any public enquiry for any degazettement.
“We have to show it's a civil process and it helps the state and management of forest reserve and if we do it well, then the rest of the states will put in this amendment in their state law,” she said, of the amendment to the National Forestry Act 1985 which was passed in 2011.
The EKVE forms the final section of the KL Outer Ring Road (KLORR) which currently comprises the LATAR Highway, Guthrie Corridor Expressway, ELITE Highway, South Klang Valley Expressway and SILK Expressway.
Construction is expected to begin next year.
An ongoing dry spell has shone a light on the vulnerability of water supply in Selangor, which has been the hardest hit by the weather.
The state was forced to institute water rationing affecting over 2 million consumers after water levels at two dams fell near critical marks due to lack of rainfall.