Laguna Lake is the largest freshwater lake in our country and among the largest in Southeast Asia.
The STAR/Joven Cagande, File photo
Fail-safe water security system for Manila metropolis
Eduardo H. Yap ( - May 16, 2019 - 3:21pm

Metro Manilans recently went through a traumatic episode. The taps went dry for weeks in the East water concession zone. Water supply has since resumed but still in a much reduced state.

People, young and old, had to form long daily queues very early in the morning using all sorts of containers to get water. Hospitals were also affected with some services reportedly curtailed. Factories dependent on water suspended or reduced operations.

What transpired was only in a part of the metropolis, yet it was already a crisis situation. Imagine the plight of the people and the chaos if, God forbid, the entire water system is disrupted.

Warnings have been issued by relevant experts of long severe droughts owing to climate change and of a catastrophic earthquake when the feared "Big One" finally happens. The recent earthquake that caused deaths and damage in Pampanga revealed a hitherto hidden fault line. Consequent damage to water system infrastructure and disruption of water supply could be extensive and severe.

Water is essential to sustain life. In such a dire eventuality where supply is severely disrupted, the teeming population of about 20 million in the greater metropolitan area would be starved for water to drink, cook food, clean and wash. There would be mass exodus out of the metropolis in a desperate dash for water only to find other large freshwater bodies as polluted as Laguna Lake.

We could have a Mad Max scenario where prople would fight and die for water. The greater Manila metropolis has a fifth of the country's population and over a third of its economy. Collateral damage to supply chains in other regions could be significant. Such a dire situation cannot be allowed to happen. No matter how remote the possibility, worst case contingency preparation is a must.

It is for this reason, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) has submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte a proposal for the rehabilitation and preservation of Laguna Lake, under a holistic plan to include massive reforestation of the watershed that feeds water to the lake, development of the lakeshore for mass recreation and sustainable eco-tourism, controlled urban development and connectivity including a cross-lake ferry transportation system.

These projects will greatly contribute to water security, the well-being of the people in the metropolis, as well as economic growth when the vast potential of this great natural resource is properly protected and harnessed.

Essentily, we are proposing a fail-safe water security system for the greater Manila metropolitan area with Laguna Lake and the dams playing a complementary role to achieve redundancy with two independent major sources to ensure water supply come what may. A third alternative is seawater desalination, but the nearest source, Manila Bay, is equally or even more polluted.

Laguna Lake is the largest freshwater lake in our country and among the largest in Southeast Asia. It is an ideal, logical, inexhaustible and proximately located source of fresh water.

Unfortunately, the water quality of Laguna Lake has, despite sporadic efforts, continuously degenerated from neglect and wanton disregard for the lake's well-being much like other natural resources of our country. Currently, the water treatment plant in Putotan can not draw water from the lake due to massive amount of algae.

The MAP strongly applauds Duterte for seeing the despoilage of Boracay and exercising strong political will to rehabilitate it. We see and appreciate the beneficial results of the draconian measures employed.

We urge the president to similarly act and replicate his admirable action in Boracay, this time to save Laguna Lake by issuing an executive order to direct all national and local government units and instrumentalities to immediately implement all existing laws, rules, regulations and directives to protect and rehabilitate Laguna Lake and the forest cover of its watershed in the surrounding hills and mountains.

Corollary to these measures, the public must be strictly enjoined, under pain of penalty, from dumping waste into the lake. Polluting industries such as factories, fish culture, poultry and livestock farms, and use of toxic chemicals must be strictly regulated to a sustainable and safe level.

Other sources of pollution must be prohibited, and these include the use of vessels in the lake powered by fossil fuels. Preferably, only vessels using clean energy, such as electric or natural gas, shall be allowed. This is the practice in many environmentally protective countries.

Using Boracay as the model, physical structures must be banned within a prescribed no-build zone on the lakeshore. But given the large population in the communities surrounding some parts of the lake, the buffer zone should be wider than Boracay's to provide more space for public recreation and common enjoyment of a national resource.

Another important component of this holistic plan includes eco-tourism developments along the lakeshore. The proximity of certain lakeshore areas to the international airport, financial center in Makati and the south commuter train service enhances the viability of these developments. Further connectivity would be necessary, including a cross-lake ferry transportation system. The potential for recreational and economic activities is vast.

Water security means survival for the teeming millions in the greater Manila metropolis. It is a matter of national security.

Eduardo H. Yap is chair of the MAP national issues committee and proponent of this holistic Laguna Lake rehabilitation plan approved by the board of governors.

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