The International Steam Pages
Penang Hills and Trails - PBA Rain Gauges
I have prepared some pages on 'water' in the context of Penang's hills, covering rain gauges, catchment areas and some of the lesser known dams and reservoirs. I must stress that what is presented is unofficial and empirical, derived almost entirely from what I have found as I have explored. Unfortunately, while the various bodies which are involved are quite good at erecting signs (which are then left to rust) they are poor at public communication. You can search the web in vain for any official information and on the one occasion I tried to approach the PBA directly, it was like communicating with a brick wall.
PBA (Perbadanan Bekalan Air) is the body charged with the public water supply in Penang. They have significant dams at Air Itam, Teluk Bahang and Mengkuang (in Seberang Prai) together with smaller dams and reservoirs elsewhere. They operate the Fettes aqueduct behind Batu Ferringhi and a system of interconnected pipelines. In fact, I have read that this supplies barely 20% of Penang's needs, the rest coming from the Muda river which mainly runs through neighbouring Kedah but at its lowest end forms the border with Penang - from where the water is taken. Amazingly, Penang has both the cheapest water in the country (thanks to a massive subsidy) and the highest per capita consumption, no doubt the two are related and it's clearly not sustainable.
They are also responsible for maintaining the integrity of water catchment areas, hikers will be familiar with their (often decaying) warning notices which are to be found mainly in the upland areas of the north of the island. Associated with this is the maintenance of a collection of rain gauges (RG) which are for the most part positioned at higher points in the principal catchment areas. Many of the ridge paths and others used by hikers were established to service them and a number of these gauges were historically noted in passing in my hike reports. RG 1 to 11 are well out of use, usually left as historical curiosities, others (RG 12 to 35) have been replaced with modern electronic logging equipment which needs visiting once a month or so to retrieve data. However, in many cases these too are now disused as the kit has proved unreliable in Penang's climate. Most are on quite well used paths but in some cases paths which would otherwise see almost no use have had to be kept open at least in part. PBA has a master list, but to date, I have been unable to access it; I have though seen a map of unknown vintage (marked 'uncontrolled') which shows approximate locations. It correlates well with the gauges I have visited except for RG 9 which is plain wrong although some are definitely slightly misplaced (eg RG 22 and 23 which are actually higher up towards Bukit Laksmana). I now know that RG 7 is also misplaced.
Helpfully, each bears a number and as most are grouped logically by area it was possible to anticipate where missing ones might be found. The list below shows known locations and the original source of my information (GM = Guillaume Martin, LM = 'Larry Malay', PL = Peter van der Lans). Click the links for each number for my report on visiting them, almost complete as of March 2016. Obviously I'd be grateful for information about RG 5, as always it will be acknowledged. I should add that previously about 10 of them were also reported in Forest Ang's "Selected Nature Trails of Penang Island" book.
It's been a real pleasure 'collecting' the rain gauges, in several cases it has brought me to areas where I had not thought to hike before. Almost all lie on 'jungle' paths and as such it is very much hiking without a view compared our more familiar areas in the south of the island.
The map shows the approximate locations of those RG I have visited together with my estimation of the various catchment areas. According to the web there are 8 gazetted water catchment areas but I have not been able to find details. Since first drawing the map, blue signs have started to appear on the hills, which name the catchment area concerned, I have made additions to the map below as a result. It is still incomplete, the area to the west of the Batu Ferringhi dam has signs for 'Anak Sungai 3V Side Stream'. I believe there will be other (small) catchment areas on the main hill above the Air Itam.
I am far from convinced by some of the signs, for instance 'Sungai Kelian' is rendered as 'Sungai Klean' which perpetuates a mistake on a PBA map. The sign which bears 'Sungai Tengah' should, I believe read 'Sungai Kecil'. As for the signs that read 'Gilemard', words just fail me. On older maps, the area around what I call the Laksmana stream above Titi Kerawang was known as the Laksamana Catchment Area, but I have yet to see any blue signs there because I have not visited since they were erected.
WF = Waterfall
I have not included paths but these will be shown at the bottom of the reports linked above. I have not added the RGs to those maps as not everyone will be interested.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson