On top of the roofs

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - November 16, 2020 - 12:00am

The city of Marikina lies in the valley surrounded by the mountains of Sierra Madre in the east and the hills of Quezon City in the west. Situated near the center of Pasig-Marikina river basin, most of the city sits at an elevation of 15 meters above sea level. For the nth time, the Marikina River once again inundated the areas along the entire length through which it flowed downstream in the city.

Again, we heard complaints and reports that water released from dams at the height of typhoon “Ulysses” last Thursday caused the Marikina River to swell. Likened to super typhoon “Ondoy” that struck Luzon in 2009, over-flowing water gushed and flooded the low-lying parts in the city of Marikina and nearby areas.

No less than Marikina City Mayor Marcelino Teodoro blamed the un-announced release of water from the Angat Dam that caused them this latest disaster. Learning from their previous “Ondoy” experience, the Mayor cited their local disaster risk management teams have prepared contingency plans to respond to 21 meters high of water level of the Marikina River. In the case of “Ulysses,” it reached up to 22 meters high, he rued.

Over 40,000 houses in Marikina City were submerged, according to Mayor Teodoro, sending thousands of families to the roof tops for safety and waited for hours to be rescued. When the floodwaters subsided, mud as thick as two feet got embedded behind. This is not to mention other destroyed properties and public facilities.

Once things settle down, Mayor Teodoro vows to pursue complaint against the state-owned National Power Corp. (Napocor) for this latest tragic calamity that have befallen their city. This is because Napocor operates the Angat dam that powers the 218-megawatt (MW) hydroelectric plant in Norzagaray, Bulacan.

Napocor president Pio Benavidez vehemently took exceptions to the Mayor’s accusations. Although the spillway gate of the Angat dam was opened at 0.5 meter to slowly return to its safe level, Benavidez explained, it does not flow through Marikina River.

When “Ulysses” struck, the water level in Angat dam, which is also the main source of supply in Metro Manila, hit 211.30 meters. This reportedly breached its 210-meter spilling level. The Ipo dam, also a water reservoir, is  located about 7.5 kilometers downstream of the Angat Dam within the Angat Watershed Forest Reserve.

Another dam, in fact, along the Marikina Watershed is the Wawa Dam in Rodriguez, Rizal. It used to be the only source of water for Manila until Angat Dam was built and Wawa was abandoned. Currently, however, its use is being revived under the on-going P20-billion Wawa Bulk Water Supply and is expected to start supplying water to Metro Manila and nearby provinces by next year.

From Google search, it shows the nearest dam in Marikina River aside from Wawa is the La Mesa Dam located in Quezon City. The La Mesa Dam, used as reserve water storage for emergencies, on the other hand, reportedly breached its spilling level of 80.15 meters Thursday morning. However, it could not spill down flood waters to Marikina because its discharge channels flow to the opposite direction.

There are at least eight other dams and floodways in the entire Luzon island. The other dams and floodway facilities include Ambuklao (Bokod, Benguet); Binga (Itogon, Benguet); Caliraya (Laguna); Magat (boundaries of Ifugao and Isabela); Pantabangan (Nueva Ecija); and San Roque (Pangasinan); the Napindan Channel (Rizal); and, the Manggahan Floodway (Pasig City).

As the Luzon dams released excess water, the operations even of both Manila Water and the Maynilad Water Services Inc. were likewise seriously affected and prompted the two concessionaire utilities to cut off temporarily their supply services at the height of “Ulysses” at the same time.

The other dams are operated by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture. One of them, Magat dam caused so much destruction when huge tons of water flowed out from all its seven gates released at the tailend of “Ulysses” onslaught and spilled down to low lying areas along Isabela and Cagayan boundaries.

Despite typhoon warnings, notices, and alerts amply served several days earlier and repeatedly announced by the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), it behooves us why such life-saving measures are ignored by the people? In the same vein, we ask why these dam operators do not trust and rely on the PAGASA forecasts to calibrate the water releases according to calculated amount of rainfall?

Aside from PAGASA weather forecasters, similar warnings and alerts are also issued by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) through the Smart and Globe telecommunications companies. The two giant telcos are mandated by our laws to send such NDRRMC mobile phone alerts in case of typhoons, earthquakes or other natural and manmade calamities.

In fact, the NDRRMC sends irksome mobile phone alerts that could either rouse you from deep sleep or startle you to death.

In fairness, these NDRRMC phone alerts – though exaggerated a bit – is obviously the government’s way to reduce catastrophic events. If they succeed to get the people’s attention and cooperation as well, it becomes our first line of defense.

Now climate change advocates push more than ever the passage into law of the bill proposing to create a Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR). President Duterte has identified the DDR bill among his administration’s legislative priority list as earlier submitted to the 18th Congress. The House of Representatives already approved its own version of the DDR bill. Its counterpart bill is pending at the Senate.

But it’s passage into law would not make the DDR to do any better in these mandated tasks. Unless we all trust and heed PAGASA typhoon warnings, flood alerts, rainfall forecasts etc., many people would still find themselves on top of the roofs while government insists it is on top of the situation.

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