Finding a SMART solution to floods
20 Mar 2022 | The Star
Residents stranded in their homes at Taman Sri Muda in Seksyen 25, Shah Alam, following the Dec 18 floods. – IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

A proposed SMART tunnel system may be the answer to ease Shah Alam residents woes.

The pitter-patter of raindrops, a sound often perceived as relaxing, now causes sleepless nights for father of four, Mogan P. Thangavelu.

“If it starts raining about 2am, I will not be able to sleep,” says the 60-year-old who lives in Taman Sri Muda, Shah Alam – an area that was hit by the devastating flood last Dec 18.

Still fresh in his mind, he recalls how the tragedy turned the housing area in Selangor into a sea of muddy brown, filling his home with 3m-high floodwater.

The incident led him to suffer about RM60,000 in losses, with floodwaters damaging his car and other belongings.

“We tried to move our valuables to the upper floor of our double storey house, but the water just rose too quickly.

“So, these days, if we notice water starting to rise, my family and I will pack everything we can, put them on the first floor and just wait,” says Mogan, an electrical technician.

SMART 2 will absorb rainwater and surface runoff through interception and infiltration, storing water underground for regulated release to the sea later. – Source and copyright: Gamuda Berhad 2022

But he is concerned for his neighbours in single storey homes as they wouldn’t have this option.

Just when they thought their constant worrying can ease and they can move on, they were again struck with fear on March 7 when a downpour caused the water level at the Taman Sri Muda water monitoring station to rise to 5.33m – a level considered dangerous.

The water may have receded, but the deluge clearly left its mark, as they constantly worry about the rain.

“Nowadays, we don’t have a peaceful life. After some residents leave for work, they ask in our group chat if it is raining or flooding.

“So, even at work, they are thinking about this,” says Mogan, who is president of the Taman Sri Muda 2 Section 25 Residents Association.

He adds that the residents have spent a lot of money repairing their houses, but some have yet to receive aid from the government.

Getting SMART about floods

To solve the problem for good, it would take much more than just one-off assistance.

Recently, news of the government considering a SMART tunnel system in Shah Alam as a solution to mitigate floods in the area has brought a ray of hope.

The SMART 2 tunnel will cover five flood-prone areas, namely Taman Sri Muda, Shah Alam, Setia Alam, Bandar Klang and Taman Sentosa (which includes Bandar Puteri). – Source and copyright: Gamuda Berhad 2022

On Feb 4, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said this was part of a list of short and long-term measures to resolve flood issues nationwide.

He said a national disaster management committee meeting chaired by him had heard a proposal for SMART tunnels to be constructed, especially in high-density, flood-prone areas such as Shah Alam.

The innovative pitch was made by Gamuda Berhad, as an answer to Shah Alam’s flood woes with the aim to alleviate the troubles of the residents.

Given the huge public interest since the announcement by the Prime Minister of measures underway, Sunday Star delves into the proposal.

If implemented, the SMART 2 project proposed by the regional engineering and construction company that was involved in the first SMART (Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel) in Kuala Lumpur will be a 22km-long underground tunnel that adopts the “sponge city” concept.

While this innovative design is inspired by the “sponge city” concept in Wuhan and projects in Guangzhou, China, the proposed SMART 2 scheme will be unique as it combines several flood mitigation measures, including river improvement works for Sungai Klang and a robust pumping system.

However, unlike the first SMART tunnel in Kuala Lumpur, the proposed project in Shah Alam will not be designed for traffic.

The SMART 2 system is designed to absorb rainwater and surface runoff through interception and infiltration – storing the large volumes of water underground and releasing it later in a regulated manner to the sea, thus alleviating flooding.

The aftermath of the Dec 18 rain bomb at Taman Sri Muda in Seksyen 25, Shah Alam.

This enhanced design will also address the issues related to surface runoff caused by rapid development in urban areas.

According to Gamuda, the comprehensive system will cover five flood-prone areas – Taman Sri Muda, Shah Alam, Setia Alam, Bandar Klang and Taman Sentosa (which includes Bandar Puteri).

These affected areas are located on the western side of Klang Valley, downstream of Sungai Klang.

Promising solution

While the SMART 2 proposal has yet to receive the green light from the government, its potential effects sound promising for the long-term peace of mind of the residents.

“If this new SMART tunnel takes off, residents will be happy and we would welcome it, rather than suffer every time there’s heavy rain,” says Mogan.

He is aware that construction may take some years, and hopes it won’t take too long to take off.

The idea of a SMART 2 tunnel is also welcomed by Shah Alam resident Stellus Fernandez, a 63-year-old retiree.

The Dec 18 deluge in the area caught him off guard, as it was his first experience with such a severe flood.

“The fear still haunts me to this very day every time there is a storm,” he says, adding that his family suffered damages of about RM50,000, which includes three cars that cannot be fully restored.

The father of three hopes the SMART 2 proposal will be backed by a thorough study to identify the problem and mitigate this flood issue to put an end to their worries.

When contacted, Gamuda Engineering managing director Justin Chin Jing Ho describes SMART 2 as a holistic flood mitigation scheme which targets the hardest hit areas from recent floods on the western side of the Klang Valley.

“What used to be a one-in-100 year flood is now happening every few years with climate change.

“Our SMART 2 design incorporates an adjustment factor to account for the increasing intensity and frequency of such extreme weather events for a future-proof flood alleviation solution,” he explains.

The floods that hit the country since end of last year had caused losses amounting to RM6.1bil, the Dewan Rakyat heard this week.

He adds that Gamuda’s solution balances the need for urgent implementation while also considering the government’s limited fiscal headroom.

“Given that such a project will take a few years to complete, SMART 2 will be spread across two phases to deliver progressive flood relief to these flood-prone areas.

“Our proposal includes river improvement works along Sungai Klang to provide medium-term flood resilience to the surrounding catchments as the full scheme is being completed,” Chin says.

With Gamuda’s tunnelling expertise and machinery coming freshly off completing the MRT Putrajaya Line tunnelling works, it is shovel ready to commence construction of the SMART 2 flood diversion tunnels right away.

“We are also proposing an innovative PPP3.0 funding model in which the project is fully funded by the private sector and will not add to the government’s debt burden.

“This should enable such a critical and much needed climate-resilient solution to get off the ground as quickly as possible,” Chin adds.