A long-drawn water problem
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - March 16, 2019 - 12:00am

The editorial cartoon published by The FREEMAN yesterday exposes the urgent need for government to step up its water resource planning.


The cartoon shows a single drop coming out from a large faucet, barely even able to quench the thirst of a growing populace. On top of the faucet is the government sweating with its bare hands to squeeze every drop that might come out from its lack of foresight.

Metro Cebu has been hounded by water supply problems for a long time already. I even wrote a special report for The FREEMAN back in 2003 about Cebu’s water supply problem. For that article, I communicated through email with Professor Olaf Scholze of the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg, Germany.

The Water Resource Center based at the University of San Carlos led me to a copy of a study Mr. Scholze made on Cebu’s water supply and quality situation. So I asked the author’s permission for me to publish some of his findings. His findings were alarming as it showed the continued saltwater intrusion into Metro Cebu’s aquifer going as far as Talamban.

In our email correspondence, Mr. Scholze revealed that the studies back then on the water supply and quality situation in Metro Cebu gave a good but not a complete picture. “In some parts it is difficult to get more detailed data (e.g. the pumping rate from the coastal aquifer),” Scholze said. “But this data is necessary for a good water balance and the water management of coastal aquifer.”

Scholze then suggested that water planners and stakeholders like the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) should go on with data gathering on the coastal aquifer system. “It is necessary to understand the complex hydrological system and the impacts of different parameters on the system,” he said.

“I'm building a groundwater model of the coastal aquifer of Metro Cebu in a computer and want to make a study on the impact of the different parameters (e.g. rainfall, pumping rates, global warming). This will also help to understand the complex system,” Scholze said. The water supply of Metro Cebu mainly comes from this groundwater system.

Probably today, around 16 years after Scholze’s report, the government has developed that groundwater model which will help us address our water shortage and plan on how to meet our increasing water demand.

Unfortunately, we’re still in coping mode --barely meeting current demand while maxing out our available water resources. Meanwhile, condominium complexes and new housing developments are sprouting all over the metropolis. For sure these create a great deal of volume demand in piped water supply.

As annual average rainfall declines because of the onset of El Niño which is worsened by the warming effects of climate change, the challenge becomes even more complicated.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but at present we in Cebu have yet to see a water management strategy that is based on scientific research-based scenarios of water consumption, groundwater extraction rates, and the other variables stated long time ago in Scholze’s report. The functions and management policies of agencies such as the National Water Resources Board are not even familiar to most of us.

Meanwhile, in a recent report by the Philippine News Agency, MCWD chairman Joel Mari Yu said the most immediate measure the MCWD can do is to build a new dam at the Mananga River in a mountain barangay in Talisay City. This planned dam is projected to generate an additional 80,000 cubic meters of water supply each day, enough to cover the rising demand in the metropolis, said Yu.

The MCWD is also looking into desalination as a possible, even if expensive, solution to cope with the demand for more potable water. Given that Cebu is surrounded by seawater, there are plenty of the latter to process into potable water, but Cebuanos may have to pay more. The good news is that in recent years the cost for desalination has significantly gone down because of technological advances.

We must accept the fact that decades of modernization and mindless exploitation of the world's natural resources have brought us to this freshwater crisis. In the past it was easy to look for and develop new water supply sources whenever consumption grew to a certain level. Today, we are faced with a scarcity that urges us to conserve water and find more efficient ways to use and derive the said resource.


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