FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Consider the following numbers and realize we are very much a Third World society.

According to a 2019 World Health Organization report, one out of every ten Filipinos has no access to clean water. Earlier this year, the National Water Resources Board confirmed that finding, observing that 11 million Filipino families meet their water needs from “unsafe” sources, including rivers, lakes and collected rainwater.

Figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority show that 53,066 Filipinos died from water-borne diseases between 2010 and 2019. Lack of access to clean water takes a huge toll.

We are well on our way towards energizing all our communities. But we have a long way to go when it comes to ensuring adequate and safe water supplies for all our people.

This is a whole-of-nation task. In the congested Mega Manila area, much of the responsibility for ensuring potable water supplies falls on the water concessions. Government, with its lumbering and unimaginative bureaucracy, could only do so much about what could become an explosive problem as climate change takes hold.

From when the water distribution service was privatized, the West Zone (now the Maynilad concession) faced great challenges. This was the older section of the metropolis. At the time of privatization, non-revenue water was running at 68 percent. Engineering plans for the pipelines, dating back to the Spanish colonial administration, were destroyed during the Battle of Manila. The aging pipes were leaking everywhere and needed to be totally replaced eventually.

Meanwhile, water management continued to be a challenge. If water was not leaking into the ground, it was hijacked through illegal connections. The viability of the business was constantly threatened – and indeed the first Maynilad concessionaire gave up in the face of investment challenges.

To this day, Maynilad is challenged by insufficient water supply, evidenced by sporadic interruptions. Now controlled by a consortium including Metro Pacific Investments Corporation, DMCI Holdings and Marubeni Corporation, Maynilad is putting in a large investment program to increase its supply of clean water.

In 2006, 24-hour water supply was a luxury enjoyed by only 32 percent of Maynilad’s customers. Today, 96 percent of customers enjoy reliable supply around the clock.

From only 45 percent previously, Maynilad improved water pressure delivery to 87 percent. Total non-revenue water decreased from 68 percent to 43 percent.

All these improvements involved hard work, tough investment decisions and a future-proofed business strategy. The work continues towards improving water services for all of Maynilad’s customers. The crucial investment decisions involving a long business horizon have been made.

For 2023, Maynilad is on track to invest up to P26 billion in capital expenditures. This represents an increase of 86 percent over to P14 billion invested last year.

Much of the added capital expenditure is going into the construction of modular treatment plants, including building a new plant in Muntinlupa. This will be the third plant tapping into Laguna Lake. It will bring up capacity to 150 million liters per day (MLD).

Four treatment plants are being built in Cavite – two in Imus and two in Bacoor. The Imus plants will be operational by the end of this year. The two Bacoor plants will be operational by the fourth quarter of 2024. These new plants will create additional capacity ranging from 4 MLD to 18 MLD.

Currently, all of Mega Manila is 97 percent dependent on water from Angat Dam. That is not wise nor is it sustainable.

Water supply interruptions in the southern Metro Manila happened when the existing Laguna Lake plants were forced to reduce water production due to algal blooms or high turbidity. If we better care of the lake, such incidents should occur less frequently.

As part of its sustainable water supply strategy, Maynilad is investing in capacity to produce potable water from treated effluent of its sewage treatment plant. This is similar to “new water” facilities used in Singapore.

After the successful pilot implementation of its “potable water reuse” technology, Maynilad’s Paranaque New Water Treatment Plant received a Permanent Operational Permit from the Department of Health. The Paranaque plant, which fully supplies two barangays in the city, was cited as “Water Reuse Project of the Year” by the Global Water Awards for moving the industry forward through innovative technology adoption.

Maynilad has invested P6 billion in its NRW program and is on track to meet its target of 100 MLD recovery by the end of this year.

The company has awarded over P222 billion in contracts to build, through 2027, numerous water management and infrastructure that will ensure long-term availability of high-quality water for its customers. These projects involve additional 450 MLD capacity for water treatment plants and 106 MLD for modular treatment plants.

The investment plan also involves laying down 55 kilometers of new primary water lines and replacement of 639 kilometers of aging pipes. This will be complemented by the construction of five pumping stations and reservoirs along with the rehabilitation of existing ones. The company has committed to repair the 111,000 identified pipe leaks to reduce water losses. The target is to reduce water loss to 25 percent by 2027.

Maynilad looks forward to the extension of its revised concession agreement with the MWSS to further improve the viability of its planned investments. This will provide the company a longer period for cost recovery, resulting in lower tariff costs for consumers. The company aims to serve 200,000 more customers over the next few years.

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