I did a quick search on Google and sadly, not much were written about the place or history. From what I gathered (from the plaque placed at the dam), the dam was built by the Penang City Council between 1958-1962.
The dam is accessible from the Air Itam market where the Kek Lok Si pagoda is. It is just a short drive up. In the early mornings, joggers will hike up the hill. Notice the white trees in the above photo? They have been there for decades, as long as I can remember. They are bare except for a few frangipanis hanging on to the bare twigs.
As the name suggest, Air Itam dam is a dam that supplies water to part of the Penang island. We have another larger and newer dam in Telok Bahang plus smaller ones around the island. My elder brother used to scare me with stories of the possibility of the dam breaking (ala that Dutch story Dick VanDyke?) and drowning the whole island. 🙂 When you are up on the hill, looking down at the densely populated Air Itam, it does seem like a scary prospect.
It is the rainy season here and hence, the dam is filled to the brim. Water flows from the surrounding hills into the dam. I am curious where the extra water flows to? The river and into the sea?
However, during drought, this green lake will have murky waters and the white thing on the right of the photo will be exposed. It is sort of a funnel with a pillar with numbers of the depth of the water. It will be a sad sight then and we will start water rationing. (hardly happens though)
One can take a walk along the perimeter of the lake/dam. One the left side is the dam and the right are hillslopes like shown above and part of the walk will be in the jungle nearby.
If you are a Penangite and has never been up to the dam, do it soon. A walk there is good exercise with fresh air, beautiful sights, colourful flowers and chirping birds. And if you are a tourist visiting the pagoda, ask your guide to bring you up to the dam to get marvellous views of part of Penang island.