MANILA, Philipines - The current water situation “may still get worse” if rain or any of the typhoons that will hit the country does not replenish the Angat reservoir by September, according to a top Maynilad official.
Typhoon “Caloy” has intensified into a tropical depression, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), but it is not expected to directly affect the country.
Herbert Consunji, Maynilad officer-in-charge and chief operating officer, said Caloy has dumped a mere seven centimeters of rainwater into Angat Dam.
Based on Maynilad’s calculation, a daily withdrawal of 10 centimeters of water from Angat for 60 days would further bring down the level to 151 meters by September.
An even higher daily water withdrawal of 15 centimeters from Angat, Maynilad calculates, would drop its water level to an even more precarious 147 meters by September if the rains still do not hit the area of Norzagaray, Bulacan where Angat is located.
If Angat’s water level drops to 120 meters, Consunji warned, “Metro Manila will no longer have water.”
At present, Maynilad’s supply of raw water from Angat has been reduced from its normal supply of 2400 million liters (ML) to just 1819.08 ML as of July 18, according to Consunji.
Consunji said the 1819.08 ML allocation was slightly higher after East Zone concessionaire Manila Water agreed to allocate some of its water for the West Zone.
Consunji explained that Manila Water has a different water source configuration from Maynilad that has allowed the Ayala-led firm to more adequately service its customers.
Manila Water, he revealed, has sole control over the water-impounding La Mesa Dam, which was previously jointly exercised by both concessionaires.
Unfortunately, Consunji said, Maynilad, then under the control of the Lopez Group, had agreed to cede sole control of the La Mesa Dam to Manila Water supposedly to cut on operating costs.
As part of its planned mitigation measures, Maynilad now wants to regain joint control and use of La Mesa Dam to enable it to stabilize the water crisis affecting the West Zone.
At the same time, Consunji said, Maynilad wants the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) to seek the nullification of the Angat Hydroelectric Power Plant privatization to avert any long-term water supply issue.
He said that following the deluge of tropical storm “Ondoy,” a decision was made to release water from Angat.
Water conservation urged
In the meantime, Maynilad appealed to its customers, especially in severely affected barangays, to conserve water.
The West Zone comprises a total of 117 barangays spread in Las Piñas, Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Quezon City, Valenzuela City, Manila and Parañaque.
Disaster and dam officials also expressed optimism that water elevation will again climb to normal levels as soon as the rain comes in.
“We are closely monitoring the water supply status in these areas so we can make the necessary system adjustments and water rationing arrangements,” Consunji said.
He said they have already come up with additional mitigating measures such as continuous sourcing of water tankers even outside of Metro Manila apart from the existing 30 tankers they have now. “We will also tap public fire trucks to assist in our water tankering operations.”
He said they are also set to beef up their call center operations and will establish additional El Niño hotlines to be manned by their cadet engineers and volunteer employees.
Maynilad has five established El Niño hotlines for affected customers – 981-3443 to 3447.
Given the limited water supply from Angat Dam and the very significant effect of the 30 percent raw water reduction (about 720 million liters per day) on their operations, Maynilad said they were forced to implement rotating water schedules across the West Zone.
P-Noy: No nationwide water crisis yet
President Aquino said yesterday his administration would seek ways to address the situation, even as he stressed that there was no nationwide crisis yet as far as water and energy supply was concerned.
Mr. Aquino said the energy crisis remained confined in Mindanao and that the government would try to attract investors to deal with it.
The President personally inquired about the condition of Angat Dam and was informed that it also had leaks and must be repaired.
“One proposal is for private investors to do the rehabilitation work, but this is still in the nascent stages,” Mr. Aquino said, adding that it would be good to have private proponents invest because the government could no longer fund all the projects simultaneously.
“There will be no sovereign guarantees, most of these will be build-operate-transfer but we’re still fleshing out the details. Everyday, there are foreign and local investors indicating they are willing to undertake all of these needs of our country,” the President said.
He said he would await recommendations from various departments concerned as regards the country’s water and energy supply.
Mr. Aquino, however, admitted that he was not prepared to decide on the P52-billion Laiban Dam, a joint venture deal between the state-run MWSS and food-beverage giant San Miguel Corp. to provide additional water supply.
“There are many criticisms against the Laiban Dam. I really think it behooves us to review all the different proposals, to take care of the water needs of Metro Manila,” he said.
Climate change eyed as culprit
In relation to this, Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap urged the President to tap the Marikina River and Laguna de Bay as temporary alternative sources of water.
Yap warned that the current situation, if not addressed quickly, could spawn other crises like food and power shortages.
He also urged the Aquino government to develop two dams in Luzon as long-term measures to reduce dependence on the Angat Dam, which supplies water to the National Capital Region and farmlands in Bulacan.
“We just have to confront the effects of climate change to make sure this (water crisis) does not happen again,” Yap, a former agriculture secretary, told The STAR.
He said filtration systems must be set up to be able to tap drinking water from the Laguna de Bay and Marikina River to supply Metro Manila.
“These (setting up filtration systems) take a little time but they’re interim measures,” he said.
Yap noted that the rationing of water from Angat Dam has already deprived 26,000 hectares of ricelands in Bulacan of water.
Sen. Loren Legarda, on the other hand, vowed to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, to determine ways to strengthen the adaptation in the water sector.
Legarda has filed a Senate resolution recommending remedial measures to prevent water stress aggravated by climate change.
Citing expert studies, the senator noted that the looming water crisis was the result of the combination of rapid population growth, pollution and destruction of freshwater resources, and climate change that affects the hydrological cycle and consequently water availability.
Not enough rain
Meanwhile, typhoon Caloy, which was forecast to move west-northwest at 19 kilometer per hour (kph), is not expected to directly affect the country, according to Pagasa.
As of 4 p.m. yesterday, the eye of Caloy was spotted some 380 kilometers west of Subic, Zambales with maximum sustained winds of 55 kph near the center.
It is expected to be at 670 ams west-northwest of Subic this morning.
Pagasa senior weather forecaster Robert Sawi said Caloy would not bring rains to the country.
However, he said Visayas and Mindanao would experience mostly cloudy skies with scattered rain showers and thunderstorms in the next 24 hours due to the intertropical convergence zone.
Luzon, including Metro Manila, would have partly cloudy skies with isolated rain showers and thunderstorms mostly in the afternoon or evening.
Sawi said warm and humid weather would prevail over most parts of the country as Caloy exits the Philippine area of responsibility early Tuesday morning.
Pagasa said the coastal waters in Luzon and the Visayas would be moderate to rough.
The rest of the country, meanwhile, would have slight to moderate seas.
In a related development, Science Secretary Mario Montejo said the weather bureau’s severe weather bulletins will be simplified in a bid to help the public understand the warnings better.
“We will repackage the Pagasa severe weather bulletins to make them more user-friendly,” Montejo said in a press conference yesterday.
He said this will help the public easily understand the warnings issued by Pagasa during severe weather occurrence, noting that ordinary people, including the media, find the bulletins “too technical.”
Montejo said the weather agency will also try to come up with an hourly update on typhoons, adding that vital information will be relayed immediately to all concerned agencies, particularly the local government units. -
Marianne Go, Philippine Star