Laguna de Bay

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Last week, an official of PAGASA was reported to have warned that the water level at Angat Dam may further drop to anywhere from 173 to 175 meters by May if the hot weather persists. At this low level, the official warned, water rationing could be expected and water supply for irrigation would be halted to prioritize the need for potable water.

The weather bureau and the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) have started cloud seeding operations over the Angat watershed in Bulacan to induce rain. It is hoped that cloud seeding will help increase the dam’s water level and alleviate a looming water shortage.

PAGASA said the Angat watershed may return to normal by July when the probability of rainfall is higher because of the wet season. Until then, 20 million people depending on it will have to suffer, as they always do at this time of the year.

It was totally irresponsible for a series of administrations to have done nothing about Mega Manila’s almost total dependence on Angat Dam for water supply. What we have now are measures undertaken by Manila Water and Maynilad that merely alleviates the problem by tapping the dirty water of Laguna de Bay.

Strictly speaking, Laguna de Bay cannot be a source of water for purification, experts say, since its average depth is 2.5 meters, below the global standard of a minimum of 2.8 meters depth for harvesting water for purification. Manila Water and Maynilad are tapping it anyway, but the process of cleaning up the water is rather expensive.

Before the pandemic, the matter of tapping Laguna de Bay had been raised because the same dreadful situation happens every year. The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) even took the initiative of drafting an executive order to get the ball rolling in the development of Laguna de Bay as our water source to augment Angat Dam.

Indeed, before we can really tap the water of our country’s largest lake, we need to protect and enhance the potability of Laguna de Bay’s waters. For this purpose, we need to deal with the sources of pollution, whether organic or inorganic from households, farms, fisheries, and industries.

Before we can start to clean up the lake’s waters, we have to prevent residents and industrial concerns along the lakeshore from adding new pollutants. All we have done through the decades towards this goal is to set up an agency, the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), which turned out to have been totally useless.

The draft EO prepared by the MAP sought to declare that the primary use of the lake’s water is to provide potable water for Mega Manila. Other purposes may be allowed, but not to the extent of jeopardizing the primary use.

The draft EO sought to build public awareness by publishing daily water quality readings taken in strategic locations of the lake. This requires a massive information campaign among those in the lake watershed to enlist their help in protecting the lake and its waters. The lakeshore communities must be made to realize why all these are for their benefit too.

The MAP also called for a massive reforestation program for the Laguna Lake watershed, implementation of zoning regulations around the lake area, as well as the strict implementation of all environmental laws to address water quality concerns.

The draft EO was sent to the Office of the President. But nothing was heard about it after it was submitted. Hopefully, they can resurrect it from some bureaucrat’s drawer so Duterte can sign it and claim it as another achievement before he bows out on June 30.

The draft EO really said nothing new, but was required as a basis for action. It calls for the concerned national agencies to strictly enforce existing laws, specially provisions in the law creating the LLDA. The draft EO also declares Laguna Lake as a dependable proximately-located water source for Metro Manila.

MAP’s proposal for a “Save Laguna Lake Movement” has been overtaken by the pandemic. However, as we get back to normal, we should revive efforts to improve the Laguna Lake water quality so we can have another major water source for Metro Manila.

In hindsight, maybe PNoy erred in stopping the project to dredge the lake. The Arroyo administration signed a deal with a Belgian company for the project to make the lake available as a potable water source, among other objectives.

Sayang, because PNoy eventually lost the case when the Belgian company brought it up for international arbitration. The International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) ordered the Philippine government to pay P800 million to Baggerwerken Decloedt En Zoon (BDC) for scrapping the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project (LLRP) in 2011.

ICSID issued the award on Jan. 23, 2017, six years after PNoy junked the deal that was twice declared by then-Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima as “legal and binding”.

The BDC project was originally crafted to dredge the 94,900-hectare Laguna de Bay and deepen its average depth of 2.5 meters, and called for the creation of navigational channels in the waterway, which has Class C water quality deemed inappropriate for human consumption.

The Belgian company, BDC, had designed the project under the official development assistance (ODA) scheme of Brussels and was supported by then-Belgian King Albert. Unfortunately, PNoy rejected the plea of the Belgian king to salvage the project. PNoy said the project would only transfer the silt from one part of the lake to another.

BDC also secured 37.4 percent of the funding from a Belgian export agency to enable it to be covered by ODA and also secured additional financing from BNP Paribas.

Our toxic local politics scuttled a project for which no alternative was undertaken, leaving us still in need to do something major to assure water supply for Mega Manila. The Kaliwa dam project is also a no-starter due to problems with indigenous tribes in the area.

Oh well… No water during our dry spells should be a primary concern of the next administration. This administration failed to do anything in that area too.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco 

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