Brace for a waterless summer

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    THE National Water Resources Board (NWRB) warned the public last week to brace for a decrease in water allocation for household use in Metro Manila as the government tries to make the most out of the available water for homes, offices and factories, and for agriculture. NWRB Executive Director Sevillo David Jr. has a terse announcement: “Authorities cannot increase the water allocation for houses to the normal 46 cubic meters per second from the current 40 cubic meters per second because Angat Dam, Metro Manila’s main water source, was still below its normal operating level.’’

    Mindful of the irrigation needs of farmers in Luzon, David meanwhile assured them “the allocation for agriculture will stay at about half of the normal 40 cubic meters.’’ It should be noted that since January, the NWRB has regulated the water supply allocation to minimum levels to ensure ample water supply in the coming months.

    Water is a most important resource, and many residents in urban areas admit that they can do without electricity for some time, but they need water every day. Last summer’s water shortage was indeed serious, with both Maynilad and Manila Water customers reeling from more than 12 hours of water interruption and the usually messy activity of water rationing.

    Starting with the first week of March last year, some 50,000 households in the National Capital Region began to suffer from a severe water shortage. La Mesa and Angat dams had alert levels that were below critical, and even President Duterte was alarmed. The President summoned all the officials of government and the private sector involved in water to Malacañang for a dressing-down, with threats and other strong words urging them to act, and act fast. The Chief Executive also said he will terminate the government’s contracts with the two water concessionaires in Metro Manila as the problem deepened and there was no temporary solution in sight. Under pressure from the Palace, the water officials managed to restore water supply by the end of March, although water pressure was still low. The public did not know how they did this, but we can only surmise that the allocation for irrigation and agriculture was decreased to somehow alleviate the suffering in the cities.

    There are many reasons that contribute to the water shortage in the whole country, not just in Luzon. The concessionaires enumerated some of these factors as increased demand, lack of rainfall in many areas, delays in water infrastructure projects that are intended to boost supply, the declining water levels in La Mesa Dam, etc. Environmentalists will say that climate change has something to do with this shortage and, for course, the depletion and degradation of our forests and watersheds.

    Our water officials have only palliative measures to deal with the real water crisis, such as identifying and digging new deep wells, tapping whatever clean water is left in the Laguna de Bay. Some measures such as the restoration of the Wawa Dam may be feasible but the most long-term and permanent solution, as President Duterte himself admitted, is the construction of the Kaliwa Dam in Quezon province and part of Rizal province.

    The New Centennial Water Project or Kaliwa Dam is a new water source proposed to be developed in order to meet the increasing water demand of MWSS’s domestic water supply in its service area. The dam has a project cost of P12.20 billion coming from Official Development Assistance loans. It is located in Sitio Cabiao, Barangay Pagsangahan, General Nakar, Quezon province, extending to Sitio Queborosa, Barangay Magsaysay, Infanta, Quezon. A tunnel to move water from the dam to water distribution channels in Metro Manila will traverse Teresa, Rizal.

    President Duterte himself acknowledged the need to fast-track the Kaliwa Dam project, despite the opposition from minorities living in the mountain areas of Infanta and General Nakar towns. The status of the project as of to date, after many years of waiting, is that there is an ongoing acquisition of lots required for the Tunnel Outlet Portal, and almost never-ending coordination with the various local and national government offices concerned is under way. Involved in these coordination efforts are Infanta, Real, General Nakar in Quezon province; Tanay, Morong and Baras towns in Rizal province; the offices of the governors of Quezon and Rizal; the National Commission on Indigenous People Region 4-A; the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environment Management Bureau – Central Luzon; the DENR Region 4; and the Protected Area Management Board. Added to these Executive department offices are the NEDA and the Department of Finance, and the Office of the President itself. And then again, there is Congress of the Philippines, with the Senate already scheduling a committee hearing to give critics and proponents of the Kaliwa Dam project a venue for their arguments.

    With so many government agencies involved in the Kaliwa Dam project, it looks like it will take years before this single major solution to the water shortage in Metro Manila will see the light of day.

    In the meantime, let us brace for a waterless summer and feel the heat.