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Curing water woes

Just because we are experiencing back-to-back typhoons that unleash heavy rains during the wet season that historically lasts until November, there is no assurance that water shortage is a remote possibility this year.

Other factors could come into play that could disrupt the supply of water to the National Capital Region and surrounding area.

For instance, human intervention via vital infrastructureprpojects can disrupt water services.

And so we share the concern and support the call of Sen. Imee Marcos in renewing her call on the government to solve the impasse in negotiations with tribal communities affected by the Kaliwa Dam project, as ongoing water supply disruptions revived concern over the long-term water security of Metro Manila and neighboring cities.

Marcos noted that despite the rains in recent months, Angat Dam’s water supply has continued to dip below its minimum operating level of 180 meters since Thursday, far from its highest level of 204.5 meters recorded in January.

Without more rain, she warned that Angat Dam’s water supply may drop to its critical level of 160 meters by November, if the present rate of decrease continues.

“Once and for all, let’s buckle down and solve Metro Manila’s perennial water problem, short- and long-term,” she said, addressing the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Public Works and Highways, and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

“The translation of project documents that the Dumagats had requested so long ago will lend transparency to the negotiations in acquiring their free, prior and informed consent according to law,” Marcos added, citing that the request was made in August 2019 during a hearing of the Senate committee on cultural communities that she chairs.

The lady lawmaker noted that 32 indigenous communities in the municipalities of General Nakar and Infanta in Quezon province, led by tribal leader Marcelino Tena, complained over the weekend that the NCIP had left them out of the distribution of the translated documents.

Tena also told the senator’s office that police escorts were guarding Chinese workers of the project contractor, China Energy Engineering Co. Ltd., which continued building access roads to the Kaliwa Dam site despite lacking the required government permits.

The government had resumed building access roads in May amid the Covid-19 lockdown, reneging on a promise the MWSS made in February during the last hearing of the Senate committee on cultural communities.

Tena’s group, Samahan ng Katutubong Agta/Dumagat-Remontado na Binabaka at Ipinagtatanggol ang Lupang Ninuno, opposes the Kaliwa Dam project that will inevitably submerge ancestral domain and displace their people.

If the Kaliwa Dam project pushes through, its timeline for completion shows Metro Manila’s growing population of almost 13 million may face a lack of water security in at least the next five years, Marcos said.

For now, she said water supply can be increased if Maynilad “used its billions in profit” to further reduce its non-revenue water, or water lost to leakages and illegal connections, which the MWSS placed at more than 30% of the private concessionaire’s total water distribution.

“Reducing non-revenue water will also help lower the price of water, since consumers will no longer have to cover for all that huge 30% wastage,” she said.

“Manila Water has identified Laguna Lake as an alternative water source, but siltation makes its water quality more difficult and thus more expensive to filter, which means higher costs will be passed on to the consumer,” Marcos added.

The government can also explore the rehabilitation of other dams and the construction of rainwater harvesting facilities, she added.

She noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the need for water, with more frequent handwashing, bathing, laundering, and cleaning of surfaces.

“As responsible citizens, let’s do our share in mitigating the effects of a looming water shortage. Keep water from gushing when doing the dishes or the laundry, shorten shower time or use a ‘tabo’ or dipper when taking a bath. Let’s prepare our drums and buckets to catch and collect rainwater when we can,” Marcos said.