No quick fix
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 18, 2019 - 12:00am

Know that one thing is true: there is no quick fix to the water problem we are facing.

Do not be misled by President Duterte’s order compelling MWSS and concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad to release water from the Angat Dam by 12 noon on Friday, March 15, good for 150 days.

Duterte’s own MWSS administrator, the retired police general Reynaldo Velasco said “there is no such thing as 150 days [water supply]. Duterte was given the wrong advice. I have already corrected that and spoken to Secretary Martin Andanar and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.”

Velasco said letting out a 150-day supply or some 600,000 million liters per day (MLD) was impossible. The current infrastructure only allows up to 4,000 MLD to be released from Angat Dam. There is also no way of further increasing that limit.

Angat Dam supplies some 4,000 MLD, which is about 96 percent of the total demand of Metro Manila. The ongoing supply shortage was caused by La Mesa Dam drying up and water being unable to reach the aqueduct gates.

Do not also believe folks who claim to have worked with a water company and have technical knowledge of how the system works. A comment from one such person became viral in social media. I am surprised even people who should know better bought his claim.

According to this person, there is a quick fix solution to Manila Water’s problems… open a so-called bypass and let water flow freely from Angat to Manila Water. He is either confused, or purposely misleading to create even greater public anxiety.

He is incorrect. There is a bypass which allows the water from Angat to bypass the La Mesa reservoir and go straight to the Balara treatment plant. It won’t increase the volume of water. The same water volume just passes through another conveyance system to the treatment plant.

This someone claims the MWSS regulator ordered the closure of a bypass gate at the La Mesa portal which, according to him, favors Maynilad and not Manila Water. I know people from both companies, so I asked.

The Maynilad guys immediately told me that it is Manila Water, not Maynilad, that totally controls this bypass gate, since February 2018 when it was opened. MWSS has nothing to do with the bypass gate.

 Maynilad’s raw water allocation comes directly from Angat Dam. Maynilad lives by the day because it has no storage like La Mesa. It does not source raw water from La Mesa Dam, which is exclusively for Manila Water’s use. It is the water level in La Mesa Dam that is now severely depleted, notwithstanding the normal water level in Angat Dam.

 How did the La Mesa Dam water get so depleted? Manila Water has been getting its full allocation of 1,600 million liters per day (MLD) from Angat Dam. But it is selling to its customers 1,750 MLD. Manila Water took the difference from water stored in La Mesa Dam.

 Probably, Manila Water was under pressure to sell more water because they have more customers, or maybe because they are straining to meet revenue targets. They told me that they were also banking on a treatment plant they are building in Cardona, Rizal to be completed by this time, but which was delayed.

 The Cardona treatment plant will get water from Laguna de Bay to produce some 100 MLD of treated water specially for their customers in Rizal province. The 50 MLD that Maynilad will share with them only covers half the need. San Miguel has offered to share water from its Bulacan Bulk Water treatment plant, but I presume at a cost.

 The other thing that bothers me from the President’s misguided order, as well as comments on social media, is the suggestion that it is alright to use as much of Angat’s water reserves as we need to instantly get Manila Water’s system back to normal. They think this quick fix solution is the thing to do.

 They are mistaken. Given we are now in El Nino times, no matter how supposedly mild, we do not know when the rains will really come. Maybe rains, outside of occasional low pressure areas, will come in June… maybe in August.

 There is the misimpression that Angat is full and can take a faster depletion. But while still in normal level, the Angat water level is now lower than in previous years.

 The wise and prudent thing to do is to conserve what we still have in storage at Angat through proper reservoir management. We have to make all that water last until the rains come. Otherwise the whole of MegaManila, not just the half served by Manila Water, will be in trouble.

 The original sin behind our problem today was government’s decision to reserve the right to develop new water sources. The intention of the privatization plan was to make the private sector responsible for development of new sources, treatment, and distribution.

 There should be no opportunity for finger pointing as it is happening now. Government has dropped the ball. The two concessionaires saw this problem and started building smaller facilities to enable them to meet demand.

 Maynilad was first to build its reverse osmosis treatment plant in Pototan, Muntinglupa. They started with 100 MLD, expanded by another 100 MLD, and is on track to have another 100 MLD.

 Manila Water was late, having only recently started to build its Cardona treatment plant for its service areas in Rizal Province. Pototan and Cardona draw water from Laguna de Bay.

 People are protesting the use of a Chinese loan to build Kaliwa. True, there was a PPP package left by the Aquino administration with two prequalified bidders, San Miguel and Datem. But this administration wanted to go Chinese.

 I prefer not to deal with the Chinese if there are willing local investors. But whoever does it, it should be done and quickly too. Otherwise, this water crisis will haunt us year after year.

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

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