Water is one truly basic need that we take for granted. We think we have an abundance of it so we do not give it much thought… until our faucets run dry.
This happens yearly about this time of the year. But we should worry about Metro Manila being over 95 percent dependent on Angat Dam. Angat is in an earthquake prone zone. If it cracks, we have no real alternative source.
Various administrations have been talking about alternative water sources for decades, but have not gone beyond talking. The Duterte administration is no different.
For a while, Duterte was talking about finally getting the Kaliwa-Kanan River dam project going. It is expected to add 600 million liters per day (MLD) to the capital‘s water supply.
In 2011, MWSS, under its then chairman Gerry Esquivel, launched the New Centennial Water Source project. Based on the feasibility studies and detailed engineering designs prepared in 2014, the integrated system would generate additional water sources to ensure water security for Metro Manila. Laiban is the only remaining nearest surface water source for Metro Manila.
But the Kaliwa Dam project is dead in the water. China was supposed to finance the project, but nothing came out other than a lot of press releases.
There were problems, including the concerns of indigenous people living in the area. But those problems have been there for the longest time. There must be solutions if there is political will.
While it is just to address the concerns of the indigenous Dumagats, they also cannot hold hostage over 20 million other Filipinos in NCR and adjacent provinces who need a new water source. I thought the tough talking Duterte would be the president who would score a breakthrough here. It didn’t happen.
So here we are, once again looking at a water shortage this dry season. Customers of Maynilad will likely feel the pinch more. Indeed, they are already suffering enough to call on authorities to do something.
Maynilad’s area has been problematic from the start. It is larger and it comprises the older part of Metro Manila with a lot of leaky pipes.
If the Angat water level goes down perilously this dry season to make a reduction in water allocation mandatory, Maynilad may have problems meeting their customers’ water requirements.
It probably won’t be as bad for those in the area served by Manila Water because it should have learned its lesson from the shortage in 2019. It has also started operations of its Cardona Treatment Plant to clean water from Laguna de Bay.
The Cardona Plant has a capacity of 50 MLD. Manila Water is also planning to put up an integrated water supply facility (East Bay Project) in Pakil, Laguna with a 250 MLD capacity.
Maynilad also has a water treatment facility along Laguna de Bay. Its Putatan I Plant (with a capacity of 100 MLD) in Muntinlupa City consists of dissolved air flotation, biological aerated filtration, ultra-filtration, reverse osmosis, disinfection, and oxidation of certain compounds.
Maynilad is also putting up its Putatan II Plant with a capacity of 150 MLD.
It isn’t as if the two water concessionaires are not doing their share. Indeed, if MWSS didn’t insist that the government would be responsible for sourcing water and the private company merely for distribution, things today might have been better.
Because of its proximity, Laguna de Bay is a readily available and accessible water source for the growing population of Metro Manila. But that lake is a big open sewer.
There is a need to reduce the pollution of the lake by establishing sewage treatment facilities, deepen the lake to increase its water holding capacity, and reforest its denuded watershed to lessen its sedimentation.
Cleaning up the water of Laguna de Bay is expensive, more so than the raw water the water companies get from Angat and could get from a potential facility in Kaliwa/Laiban.
One other thing going for Manila Water is Ricky Razon taking over from the Ayalas. This means it can benefit from the Wawa Dam project that Razon initiated some years ago.
Wawa Dam in Montalban is expected to produce 80 MLD starting October this year. The balance to provide a total 518 MLD will be available in 2025.
I remember Dondi Alikpala, an expert on water, telling me that while water shortage is a concern in Metro Manila, we must not forget that for the rest of the Philippines, less than 50 percent even have household connections.
Most of our countrymen still live with pila and balde on a daily basis. Even in major cities like Bacolod and Iloilo, only about 30 percent of families are connected to the water utility.
Groundwater extraction, specially in Metro Manila, has only made problems worse – with subsidence causing the city to sink and not too slowly too. Manufacturing concerns that use a lot of water should be required to make provisions for more efficient use of the resource.
A good example is San Miguel Corporation, which two weeks ago announced they were able to save 27 billion liters of water and are still working to reduce their water use by 50 percent by 2025.
To reduce drawing from scarce water sources, SMC president Ramon Ang said they utilize several methods, including the use of sea water, water recycling, and rainwater harvesting for cooling machines, cleaning, and other utility, non-product water usage.
SMC has mandated that all its newly-built facilities be fitted with rainwater collection systems. A number of older facilities are also being retro-fitted to increase rainwater harvesting and to replace leaking underground pipes with above-ground, easy to monitor installations.
SMC’s program should be made mandatory for all manufacturing concerns in the country. A law to that effect should be passed.
We have to take this water problem seriously and urgently. Renewable water resources are constant while population growth continues. Add to that climate change. Unless we do something now, the quality of life in this country will deteriorate with each passing day.