Water crisis and what lies ahead
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - November 4, 2019 - 12:00am

There is a water crisis today. But the crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy our needs. It is a crisis of managing water so badly that billions of people – and the environment – suffer badly – World Water Vision Report

When the water crisis hit Metro Manila in March, the President told MWSS officials and water concessionaires to “shape up or ship out.” He threatened to terminate the concession agreements. Six months later, today, we are filling up our pails with water, following a rationing schedule and waiting until the last drop of water stops. If this isn’t a problem, then what is it?

This has been the story of our nation. No progress. No developments. No governance or to be fair, wrong governance systems in place. Countries have overtaken us because our mindset, our values and our principles are backward.

Presidential Spokesman and Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said, We will find ways so the water crisis won’t worsen. If there is a problem, there is a solution. So, I think that people responsible for that will do their jobs. If you recall, it has been addressed before. Perhaps there is a new problem.

What a laugh! How pathetic is his statement especially if it is coming from the nation’s Legal Counsel to the President. Is he getting too old to remember that the water crisis last March (only six to seven months ago) hasn’t been addressed?

Every Tom, Dick and Harry knows that the impending ‘water crisis’ is due to lack of new sources of water. It’s as simple as that! Water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water have managed to cope with the increasing demand for water by working on the non-revenue water: the leaks and illegal connection that went as high as 60%. But there have been no new sources of water added in the past 20 years. The last one was tapping the Umiray River by gravity in General Nakar, Quezon via a 13.1 km tunnel with a diameter of 4.3 meters to Angat Dam. This is called the Umiray-Angat Transbasin project that added 25 percent more water to the supply of Metro Manila and environs. The total supply of the Umiray-Angat and Ipo river system is 4,100 MLD (million liters per day), which represents 95 percent of the total supply being delivered by water concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad Water. The other water supply are just the new small sources tapping water from Laguna de Bay using the expensive reverse osmosis and other treatments.

The P20 billion rehabilitation of the old Wawa Dam is now being fast-tracked by Enrique K. Razon Jr.’s company, Prime Infra. It will be operational by 2022 with water supply of 500 MLD. Razon said that they will be able to deliver 80 MLD by 2021 or two years from now.

As a brief background, the Americans built Wawa Dam in Montalban (now Rodriquez) Rizal in 1909 to supply water for Metro Manila. It is located on a 360-hectare Montalban Gorge with an elevation of 1,100 feet. It was abandoned in 1968 after Angat Dam became operational in 1967. Then the Umiray Trans basin was added 20 years in the late 1990s.

The solution to the water problem will take at least three to five years. There is no magic wand! Aside from the rehabilitation of Wawa Dam that will take three years, the others will take five years and work has not even started yet. These are sources of water in the mountains of Quezon, Rizal and Bulacan.

 “Find ways so the crisis won’t worsen”, the Palace jester said. What a joke indeed! Why does the President allow his jester to talk to the public this way? Are we dumb? How can a crisis not happen if you are not confronting the real issue? Hopeless case! And yes, sadly this is how government thinks. This is how our government serves. This is how governement treats tax-payers. And this is why we have never evolved since time immemorial. It surely takes private entities and private citizens movements to make a difference!

In the final analysis of all these, my friend Rick Ramos of Pilipinas Sandiwa Heritage Foundation said that the central issue remains with the incompetence of the MWSS as a regulator. The concessionaires cannot just develop new dams or reservoirs without MWSS giving them the green light. Obviously, Manila Water just got lucky to have their proposed Wawa Bulk Water Supply project approved which by the way is expected to add 500 million liters per day to their supply. Reports say that there are many other projects in the pipeline, but it seems that MWSS did not act on them right away to stop today’s water shortages.

Ramos pointed out that even the MWSS Chief Regulator Patrick Ty admitted on television that it was their fault, “Yes, it’s our fault. It’s everyone’s fault because we’ve been delaying all these projects.” By “everyone,” Ty meant to share the blame on indigenous peoples (IP) groups and environmental NGOs “blocking all these alternative water sources.”

The controversial Kaliwa Dam, while it promises to provide Metro Manila’s water needs in the coming years, will definitely displace the Dumagat-Remontado people and permanently disrupt the area’s ecosystem. But the president has put his foot down on this issue. He said that he will use his “extraordinary powers” (whatever that means) to see the project through. I hope he finds the right solution by properly addressing the issues on hand. Let’s see how government will carefully plan and strategize the project for the good of every citizen, IP or not.

By the way, can the President appoint professional managers and/or engineers to the MWSS? Retired police general and MWSS Reynaldo V. Velasco was replaced but just kicked upstairs as Chairman of MWSS. So, no real change. And almost all the other board members appointed by President Duterte are lawyers except for one engineer whose outstanding qualification is being from Davao. Clearly, these men are not qualified, not skilled enough to lead the MWSS. Most of them belong to a different field of interest. MWSS will surely continue to suffer, go down the drain, kaput.

Creating a new Department of Water sounds good but it will be useless if unqualified, unskilled men lead it. We need to appoint qualified professionals, experts who are able, who are experienced and adept to work in the field or else it will fail just like the present state of MWSS, having retired police and military officers at its helm who clearly know nothing about the industry.

Anyway, it looks like we are in for a long haul! Water shortages will get worse as we await the completion of Kaliwa Dam in 2022. For now, the president’s suggestion of letting the government take charge of water distribution must not happen or else we’re doomed. We need to be vigilant until the government can get their act together. In the meantime, get your tabos, timbas and baldes ready. Christmas will be a colorful season in our bathrooms and kitchens this year.

DAM MWSS
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