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Land Use Change in Highland Area and Its Impact on River Water Quality:

A Review of Case Study in Malaysia

By: Azlini Razali, Sharifah Norkhadijah Syed Ismail, Suriyani Awang, Sarva Mangala Praveena and Emilia Zainal Abidin



Dated: 29.08.2018

Viplav Arora

M.Arch (Ekistics)

In this Paper authors studied Cameron Highland area in Pahang district, Malaysia. Their study includes reasons of land use change and its impact on environment and river water quality.


Highland Regions It acts as a water catchment and serves as the main hydropower generation sources for lowland. It also provides water resources for agricultural, industrial and domestic use downstream. According to Malaysia Islands & Highlands Development guideline, any forest situated 1000m above the sea level is classified as reserved forest or catchment forest land. It is an environmentally sensitive area, any land clearing is prohibited in this area.

Three main rivers that flow across Cameron Highlands are The Telom, The Bertam, and The Lemoi. These rivers serve as freshwater sources, hydroelectricity generation, and irrigation for agriculture purposes and are for recreational activities. Tourism and highland agriculture are the main economies driven in Cameron Highlands.

Over the period of time, forest coverage reduced and the land use for agriculture activities has increased. Illegal land clearings and unsustainable developing methods have created major ecological disturbances in Cameron highlands.


To explore the connections between the land use activities, agriculture practices, agro-tourism, and agriculture policy and management with the water quality effects in the river network of Cameron Highlands. The continuous deterioration of river water quality can affect human health as well as the environment.


Researchers reviewed 68 papers and study showed a significant association between the increase of development land use and the decrease of natural and forest areas.

Land use change for the past 50 years in Cameron Highlands were studied and analytically converted into various tables with timelines and correlation between

forest degradation and the legally and illegally developed land use have been set up. Encroachment area (particularly for agriculture) increased by 32% from 2001 to


Four main environmental issues in Cameron Highlands namely as River Pollution, Slope Failure, Temperature Rising and Flood.

In past 33 years, deforestation leads to rise in temperature by 2 to 2.2 degrees.

Land use changes greatly influence the surface runoff into water bodies. Agriculture activity contributes the highest total nitrogen and total phosphorus runoff as compared to the residential areas, urban areas, and vacant areas. The increasing trend of conversion of land use into agriculture areas significantly increases the introduction of eroded soil into water bodies.

Agriculture at highlands and its demerits:

Large land clearing for agriculture purposes leads to contamination of soil and its properties with continuous abuse of pesticides. Heavy metals such as manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), and zinc (Zn) are also among the elements found in soil of that region.

Soil Erosion, introduced the agriculture soil bounded with pesticides and heavy metal elements in water bodies.

Apart from soil erosion problem, the water bodies also threatened with agricultural waste runoff and nutrient loss from the expose agriculture soil.

Agro-tourism, agriculture based operation such as scenic scenery in a tea plantation, strawberry and flowers farms comprehended with education, entertainment and production operation which attract visitors to farms and experiences in the natural agro based setting.

This also led to threaten the environment as evidently shown by disasters such as landslides, flash floods and mud floods that occur frequently especially after heavy rain pouring. Sustainable tourism approach was needed to ensure balance between human and environmental resources.

Agriculture policy and management:

Temporary Occupation Licenses (TOLs) under leasing arrangements for 40 years.

Local District Plan, a physical planning that conveys in a form of land use proposal map by the local authority.

Malaysian certificate scheme for Good Agricultural Practice.

All these policies were made but due to poor implementation and lack of awareness to farmers, lack of infrastructure to establish check on illegal land clearings for vegetable farming, expensiveness and complexity of certification process, did not prove enough to curb abuse of land and water resources.

River water quality status in Cameron Highlands:

Most of the studies found that the parameters such as temperature, electrical conductivity (EC), total dissolved solids (TDS), total suspended solids (TSS), nutrient enrichment, and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) increased as the river water flowing down the stream as a result of contaminant accumulation, magnification, and sediment transport.

The use of alkaline detergent and wastewater from residential and small-scale industrial areas had increased the river water pH at Brinchang town,

The temperature of water increases proportionally as it flowed downstream as the concentration of nutrients and EC increases.

TDS was highly recorded in the area with extensive plantation and during the wet season.

Water tests showed significant amount of nutrients that can cause eutrophication.

Untreated domestic wastewater and chicken manure used as fertilizers in agricultural activities discharged in the water bodies.

One of the main issues of river pollution in Cameron Highlands are sedimentation and siltation. It can be seen through the physical characterization of the river water which is brown or milk-tea in color.


Rampant land clearing for agriculture and urbanization purposes have shown a negative impact on the fragile highlands ecosystem. Studies provide evidence that land use change, unplanned development, and unsustainable agricultural activities have directly and indirectly deteriorated the quality of river water system in the Cameron Highlands.

Improvement of the existing laws and regulations enforcement is important to control the effect of intensive agriculture activity to the natural beauty of the highland area and at the same time able to secure benefit and productivity of farmers.