Sarawak government denies Bengoh Dam leaking

Desmond Davidson

The Bengoh Dam 40km south of Kuching. – The Malaysian Insight pic, November 13, 2017.

THE Sarawak government has given its assurance that the Bengoh Dam, about 40km south of Kuching, is “technically and structurally sound and stable” in a direct denial to a news report saying the dam was leaking.

In the report, two PKR members said that the roller compacted concrete (RCC) dam, used as a water reservoir for Kuching and the neighbouring towns of Bau, Samarahan and Lundu, was “showing signs of leaking”.

The Borneo Post, which carried the claims of PKR Puncak Borneo branch chief Willie Monggin and PKR Sarawak vice-chairman Boniface Willy Tumek online, was reportedly forced to take the story down late last night.

PKR state chief Baru Bian criticised the attempted news blackout and said its Batu Lintang assemblyman, See Chee How, could table an emergency motion in the state assembly to discuss the reported leakage.

Utilities Minister Dr Stephen Rundi, however, said in a media briefing that the “water stains” seen in Monggin and Tumek’s photos of the dam, which had gone viral on social media, was “actually a designed construction joint and not a crack as alleged”.

Some seepages through the joint are expected and the wet patch seen on this area is due to the seepage,” Rundi said.

In reiterating the dam was safe, Rundi said its design and construction involved the input of experienced international dam specialists from the United Kingdom and a specialist dam contractor from China, which has built more than 200 dams around the world.

The dam was constructed by Naim Holdings Sdn Bhd.

Water stains on the Bengoh Dam that had caused debate among political leaders in Sarawak. – The Malaysian Insight pic, November 13, 2017.

“This design and subsequent construction was further reviewed by a peer reviewer who is a world-renowned dam specialist from Australia,” he said.

Rundi, a medical doctor, however, cast some doubt when he earlier said the recent lowering of the reservoir water level from its highest point of 77.6m to 65m was “in accordance with the operation procedures advised by the dam’s consultant”.

Later, he acknowledged the lowering was to enable “patching work” on the seepage joint.

“It was a planned lowering of the water level releasing water through the draw off culverts and not caused by any fault or dam leakage,” he had earlier said.

He said as such, the dam’s integrity and safety were not compromised and this integrity was “confirmed” by the dam consultant from Halcrow Consultant of the UK during a recent periodic inspection late last month.

Mongin and Tumek, in a statement yesterday, said the leak threatened some 3,500 people living in five Bidayuh villages along the upper reaches of the Sarawak Kiri river.

They said when news of the threat began circulating two weeks ago, villagers became concerned and went through “dreadful days and sleepless nights”.

The villages are Kampung Bengoh, Danu, Semadang, Giam and Git.

Mongin and Tumek said they brought “an engineer friend” to the dam on November 11 for an expert opinion and what they saw “were signs on the upstream face of the dam and on the banks of the dammed areas, that water level had receded by about five feet from its normal level”.

“On the lower part of the dam’s downstream face, water can be clearly seen leaking from the wall of the dam.

“Water from the dam was also gushing out from two diversion outlets at the lowest part of the downstream face wall.

“We were informed that water was being released from the dam to enable some urgent repair works to be carried out.”

The RM310 million dam, which became operational at the end of 2015, was fully impounded in August last year.

It was designed to provide an assured water supply for Kuching and the surrounding area up to 2030, by which time the population it serves is expected to grow to more than one million. – November 13, 2017.

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