JOHOR BARU: Population increase and climate change, among other factors, have been identified as the main factors that have affected water levels at dams in the state. Illegal farming near water catchment areas and encroachment activities also contribute to the problem. "Water catchment areas are supposed to be protected but farming activities near water dams are still prevalent," Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili said at a press conference after a visit to the Sungai Johor barrage project in Kota Tinggi. He pointed out that the problem was not only in Johor, but also in other locations like Cameron Highlands where there is illegal farming and encroachment. He said some parts in Johor Baru, Pasir Gudang and Pengerang had affected some 450,000 people who had to endure four months of water rationing from August to December last year. Ongkili said the federal government could not do much because this was a land matter which was under state jurisdiction. Johor DAP chief Liew Chin Tong when contacted said the encroachment problem needs to be resolved with political will. "I have seen how severe the encroachment is in one of my field trips last year," Liew said. "It was truly shocking. Having no forests in the water catchment had adversely affected the quantity and quality of water that enters the reservoir." State health and environment committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said river pollution was another factor which damaged water resources. He said people need to change their attitude and not throw rubbish into the drains as it will be flushed into the nearest river. He said the local government should also not issue licences for factories near riverbanks. Syarikat Air Johor Holdings Sdn Bhd corporate communication chief Jamaluddin Jamal said only two dams – the Sungai Lebam Dam and the Sungai Layang Dam – in Johor were below critical water levels. He said the water level at the Sungai Lebam Dam had dropped to 10.44m, below the critical level of 12.27m, while the water at the Sungai Layang Dam dropped to 20.53m below the critical level of 23.50m. He said there was still enough water supply, adding that water rationing would only be implemented as a last resort.