River travel along Rajang expected to return to normal by next month

Posted on May 2, 2011. Filed under: Energy |

-The Star-

MIRI: River travel for more than 30,000 residents living along the country’s longest river — the Rajang River in central Sarawak — is expected to return to normal by next month.

The water level is expected to start rising to its normal height again next month once the water from the Bakun Dam reservoir starts to flow into the Rajang after the impoundment of the dam is completed.

Belaga assemblyman Liwan Lagang told The Star yesterday that the river transportation woes that started in early October last year was expected to be over by June, after nine months of disruption.

“By next month, the flooding of the entire Bakun Dam reservoir is expected to be completed. The water from the dam will then flow down into the Rajang River (after passing through the power generation turbines) and this will raise the river level along the downstream stretch from Bakun to Belaga down and on to Sibu,” he said when asked yesterday on the latest development in the Bakun Dam downstream area.

Difficult to move: Villagers walking on the exposed banks after the Bakun Dam’s impoundment which caused the upper reaches of the Rajang River in Belaga District to become shallow and dangerous in some parts in this file pic.

“Travellers using boats, including the big express boats, will then be able to navigate to the upper reaches of the Rajang River, as well as the Belaga and Balui rivers again,” he said, adding, “There should be no more interruptions to river travel, even during the coming dry season.”

Last October 14, the Balui River, which fed the Rajang River, was dammed up to enable the Bakun Dam reservoir to be flooded.

The dam reservoir has to be flooded to at least 195 metres high in order for the water to be able to run down the water inlet to generate the eight power-generation turbines to churn out 2,400 MWs of electricity.

After the impoundment of the Bakun Dam started, two major environmental disasters hit the Rajang River — a massive logjam stretching 50km that swept thousands of logs into the Sibu rivermouth and then the entire river experienced a drop in water-level, resulting in some stretches drying up completely.

The logjam was cleared after about a week, but the river transportation to the upper reaches of the Rajang, Balui and Belaga rivers continued to remain problematic until now.

In some parts of the river, the volume had dropped by up to six metres.

The Balui and Belaga rivers confluence into the Rajang River and then flow 400km passing through Belaga town, Song Bazaar, Kapit town and then Sibu town before reaching the South China Sea.

Liwan yesterday said the information he gathered from the Bakun Dam site was that the water volume to be released downstream of the main dam wall would drastically increase and would be in time to mitigate the effect of coming dry season on the water level in the Rajang River.

“In fact, the water level is already rising because the amount of water flowing down from the diversion tunnel outlet is quite heavy since there is already a lot of water in the Bakun reservoir behind the main dam wall.

“For passengers using small longboats, they can reach up to Punan Bah settlement already.

“Once the Rajang River volume increases more, big speedboats and cargo tugboats will be able to go up into the deep interior as well,” he said.

Asked about the land linkage problem faced by more than 1,000 Penans in the Lusong Laku settlement deep in the interior near the Sarawak-Kalimantan border after a rickety bridge built by a timber company was washed away by floods last February, he said the Federal Government was to build a Bailey bridge there soon.

“The army was supposed to build the Bailey bridge. Last month, they were supposed to go in and get things done, but had to postpone their task because of the state elections.

“They are going in soon, but I have not been told of any deadline for them to complete the bridge.”

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