It gets worse
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 15, 2019 - 12:00am

Let us get a few facts out of the way so we can understand the situation better.

First, Manila Water fumbled the handling of this water crisis. They should have rationed earlier and not depleted La Mesa Dam. They should have warned the public earlier and not just surprised everyone.

Secondly, government is principally to blame because it dragged its feet in getting supply augmentation projects going.

The original intention was for the private concessionaires to also be responsible for developing new raw water sources. But P-Noy’s MWSS and NEDA insisted only government can do such projects. Of course, government delivered nothing in the end.

Towards the end of the Aquino term, they relented and pre-qualified bidders to do Kaliwa on a PPP BLT basis. The Duterte administration changed mode and made it China funded, but it has not broken ground.

Thirdly, it will be a long, hot, and dry summer for us this year and the next three years or so, even if they break ground on the Kaliwa project this year… if we are so lucky.

The plain truth is we have exhausted existing water supply sources for Mega Manila. Both Manila Water and Maynilad are expanding their customer base within their service areas, but are not getting significant new sources of water.

Now it is absolute crunch time. The rainy season is not expected until June, according to weather forecasters. Until then, there is little that can be done other than to ration the supply we still have.

Water demand will go up as the weather heats up, but both concessionaires are already running at near peak levels.  As we can see now with Manila Water, their ability to meet elevated demand is a challenge.

A massive information campaign urging people to conserve water is necessary. Water conservation must become a personal habit for all of us.

We should require new hotels, condominiums, malls and office buildings in the Mega Manila area to include rainwater harvesting and a second piping system to use recycled grey water for flushing toilets and watering gardens. They are required to have STPs anyway that produces the grey water usually just discharged into the rivers.

Current buildings must be required to retrofit to include such water saving features (second piping system for gray water to flush toilets) that are actually already standard in many places in the region like Singapore and Hong Kong. I saw a notice that SM’s Podium Mall is already doing this and saving many million liters of water daily.

Everyone must learn from what Bobby Ongpin is doing in Balesin Island Resort.

Balesin has no fresh ground water, so they collect rainwater. The runway of the airport has water catchment canals running all along the perimeter that channel the rainwater runoff to storage lagoons.

They are always expanding their water collection system. Every roof of every structure has its own rainwater collection system. Every drop of water is valuable to them.

They now have a total storage capacity of 130,000 cubic meters in five storage ponds. Even in the height of summer, they still have 68,000 cubic meters of water. With an average consumption of 400 cubic meters a day, this is good for half a year without a single drop of rain.

Used water is processed in modular sewage treatment plants, producing Class A grey water, used for the island’s lush landscaping during the summer months. Balesin has zero sewage discharge, thanks to their investment in a state-of-the-art central sewage treatment plant.

The island is now self-sufficient in water without having to use a desalination facility that is on standby.

I lay the blame for today’s miseries on government, past and present. The past governments simply didn’t have the political will to develop the Kaliwa river for our additional water supply.

Kaliwa Dam will provide a redundant source of water to Angat. It has been studied and re-studied since the 1980s. An unsolicited proposal to develop it at no cost to government was made by San Miguel, but was rejected by Maynilad and Manila Water and by NEDA.

Gerry Esquivel, past MWSS administrator, told me “I really did not understand why after decades of study it has never been started.”

Gerry said he tried to get it started and reached as far as prequalifying bidders for a PPP. But it was very frustrating, Gerry said.

“Ang hirap pala. You need to engage with indigenous people and their sovereign right to ancestral domain. You need to get clearances from the provinces and get provincial and regional endorsements. You need to discuss the effects of downstream to the very last affected barangay.

“You need to be mindful of this project’s effect on tariff. You need to get TWG (technical working groups) approvals from everyone. NEDA should endorse the project. You need the buy-in of practically all departments. You need full hydraulics and engineering, tunnel experts and dam specialists from reputable transaction advisers and consultants. The list is endless.”

The reality is, the Sierra Madre mountains are the last source of bulk water in Luzon with an estimated 8 billion liters per day capacity provided by Kaliwa, Kanan, Labuan and other tributaries.

Alan Ortiz, a public utilities expert, points out that we are today throwing ALL 8 billion liters of water per day from the Sierra Madre mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

“This is a criminal sin of omission by government in failing to harness these water sources not just for the Metropolis, but also for the surrounding Calabarzon provinces as well.

“Only the smallest of these water sources is scheduled for Build Build Build – Kaliwa at 550 million liters per day.

“New sources are key to long term sustainability of the concessionaires and water security of the metro, coupled with other demand-side interventions, such as mandating use of more efficient water appliances and possibly seasonal pricing to reflect scarcity value during drier days (I understand this is being studied by NWRB).”

Sadly, it will take three to four years for new sources to start supplying water. But government is still just on talking mode.

If nothing is done, our economy will be crippled and most of us may not even be able to take a bath or flush toilets.

We are getting a preview of that horrible future now.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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