Firms, gov’t out to prevent a repeat of 2019 water crisis as another shortage looms

Ramon Royandoyan - Philstar.com
Firms, gov�t out to prevent a repeat of 2019 water crisis as another shortage looms
This photo taken on March 14, 2019 shows residents of Barangka in Manila, gathering water. Manila has been hit by its worst water shortage in years, leaving bucket-bearing families to wait hours for a fill up from tanker trucks and some hospitals to turn away less urgent cases.
AFP / Noel Celis

MANILA, Philippines — Metro Manila could be heading to another water supply shortage as the dry season approaches, and both utility companies and the government are pulling out all the stops to avert another water crisis of the same scale as the one that hit the capital three years ago.

The National Water Resources Board (NWRB) is projecting another shortage in Metro Manila by April or May as levels in Angat Dam, which supplies 98% of the capital’s water, continues to decline while rainfall during the final months of 2021 was not enough to fill the watershed.

As of 6 a.m. Thursday, water in Angat was at 195.75 meters, down from 195.91 meters logged last Monday and already below the ideal level of over 200 meters. As it is, a water crisis at the onset of this year’s dry season would come at a difficult time for the Philippines, which is currently preoccupied on controlling the spread of COVID-19.

Sevillo David Jr., executive director at NWRB, said water providers and regulators are out to prevent Angat from reaching 180 meters, the minimum operating level. But should worse comes to worst, David said the shortage won’t be as bad as the 2019 episode — when delays in infrastructure development and high demand during the summer season created the worst water crisis in the capital region in nearly a decade.

“Compared to 2019, we have the deep wells and the treatment plants that could provide additional water if there will be some adjustments in the allocation or releases from the dam,” David said in a text message.

“Likewise, cloud seeding operations is also available based on advisory from PAGASA,” David added, referring to the state weather bureau. “We are appealing to the public to use water wisely and recycle and conserve if possible.”

Both Manila Water Company Inc. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. told Philstar.com they are already taking steps to soften the impact of the looming water crisis on its customers. The two companies also believe that the impending shortage is unlikely to be as massive as the crisis a few years ago.

"No repeat of 2019. We are still simulating our network distribution if there is a need (for water interruptions). But right now, no rotational water interruptions," Jeric Sevilla, corporate communications director at Manila Water, said.

Jennifer Rufo, corporate communications head at Maynilad, said the company has “supply augmentation measures in place to prepare for the summer months given the low water level in Angat Dam.”

“These include the construction of four modular treatment plants that will get raw water from rivers, reactivation of deep wells in various points of our concession area, management of pressure across the pipe network, and sustained leak repair and pipe replacement activities,” Rufo said.

The possibility of another water shortage only increased the urgency to find new water sources. The government has been pushing for the construction of the China-funded Kaliwa Dam in Quezon Province to augment existing water production. 

The contentious project, however, has hit many delays over concerns the dam would damage tribe lands as well as the environment. Completion of the dam has been pushed back numerous times and is now expected in 2023 when President Rodrigo Duterte's term has already ended.

For now, both water providers and NWRB are appealing to the public to help in avoiding another supply crunch. “We are appealing to the public to use water wisely and recycle and conserve if possible,” David said.

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