Irrigation body says Isabela, Cagayan residents warned of Magat Dam water release

Irrigation body says Isabela, Cagayan residents warned of Magat Dam water release
Water is released from Magat Dam in Ramon, Isabela yesterday following heavy rainfall from Typhoon Ulysses. Spillway gates of several dams have been opened after breaching spilling levels.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The National Irrigation Administration on Sunday maintained that it warned residents in Isabela and Cagayan of a release from the Magat Dam days before Typhoon "Ulysses" hit Luzon last week. 

This follows after think tank InfrawatchPH said dams rushed to open its gates at the height of the storm that triggered massive flooding in Cagayan Valley and left at least nine dead. 

NIA's Magat River Irrigation System in a statement said it had made a warning of a water release by November 9, two days before Ulysses' first landfall in November 11. 

"NIA-MARIIS officials have warned residents living near low-lying areas, particularly those adjacent to and along Magat River and Cagayan River to move to higher and safer places as the dam continues to release water starting November 9," the agency said. 

Magat Dam's water level was reported to be at 192.15 meters early Sunday morning, closing in at the spilling level of 193 meters.

The NIA said five typhoons hitting the said areas before Ulysses had caused two gates to open, equal to four meters in a bid to "reduce water containment at the Magat Reservoir."

Water inflow from Magat watersheds continuously increasing also led to more gates being opened to preserve its safe level.

"The continuous rains upstream of Magat Dam contributed to high inflows," NIA said, "while rivers along the Cagayan River had also reached its maximum capacity, causing river overflows, not only to the Cagayan River but its adjacent areas."

InfrawatchPH had called on President Rodrigo Duterte to sack NIA chief Ricardo Visaya over supposedly failing to assume leadership "to call the shots" for the programmed discharge of waters from the dams. 

A review by the infrastructure watchdog of PAGASA's dam reports said the Ipo and Angat gates were only opened on November 12, at the height of Ulysses battering Luzon. 

Magat, InfrawatchPH added, "typically opened zero, one or two gates" with only two gates opened on the same date. 

"Magat did not make sufficient water drawdown 2 to 3 days prior to Ulysses, as mandated by its protocol, because its gates were not even open 3 to 4 days prior landfall," the group said. 

"Tell us again: how is this not criminal incompetence?" said InfrawatchPH lead convenor Terry Ridon. 

But the NIA-MARIIS said it has a system which aims to ensure that concerns on the dam's status are immediately addressed. 

Information on the Magat Dam's status and its releases is also shared through television, radio, print and social media as well as e-mails, texts and sirens.

"All stakeholders are kept posted and updated as to the actual scenario of the water volume that may be flowing into their place on an hourly basis through SMS," the agency said. 

State weather bureau PAGASA's hydrometeorology division said some 6,706 cubic meters of water per second were released by the dam on November 12.

The said volume of water, released in just 11 hours or from 5 p.m. to 4 a.m., is the equivalent of 106,223 Olympic-sized swimming pools. — Christian Deiparine

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