Solutions to Cebu’s water woes
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - March 19, 2019 - 12:00am

One funny suggestion to Manila’s water shortages is to divide Metro Manila into seven zones and for all the people in each zone to take a bath only on their designated day of the week, a kind of color-coding bath day. Painfully funny, but could become a reality even if emergency measures have already eased their water shortage.

Metro Cebu was also starting to have a water shortage and this is my topic as I was chairman of Metro Cebu Water District for 12 years, and I would be remiss in my social and professional obligations, if I don’t explain and reiterate the solutions we have proposed all those years.

We have extensively studied and are still studying the water demand/supply situation in Metro Cebu, and have input from local and international experts. This was my job. I had to use every subject in my Engineering and MBA degree, and even went back to school here and in the US. So, when I and some of the top-notch engineers left MCWD, we compiled a number of solutions.

By this time, the effective demand for water in Metro Cebu would be 450,000 cu.m./day of which 300,000 cu.m. or 65% would be provided by MCWD. Around 100,000 cu.m. would be from surface water from the Mananga Weir Dam, the Carmen River, and the Buhisan Dam. Another 100,000 cu.m./day would be from MCWD groundwater deep wells.

Then, another 100,000 cu.m./day are from private suppliers of MCWD using desalination plants, treated river water, and private deep wells. With the booming economic activity and migration, water demand in Metro Cebu will grow at 7% annually which means an additional 30,000 cu.m. will be needed in the next 10 years.

The immediate solutions, which I believe MCWD is already implementing, are: Reduction of systems loss/non-revenue water by another 5% through distribution optimization, leak repairs, and strategic reservoirs; increase of the water supply from Carmen/Danao and other private suppliers; and demand management by progressively pricing water to commercial establishments to incentivize them to recycle and/or desalinate water. These should add 30,000 to 40,000 cu.m./day to the MCWD water supply.

Intermediate solutions have to be in place within five years. First, the construction of mini-dams or catchment basins in Cebu’s mountains to slow down rainwater runoff during rainy days. The flower and vegetable growers in Cebu’s mountains are already doing this; we have to do this more extensively.

Then MCWD has to tap water supply from Carcar by making it financially and economically profitable for Carcar to supply 30,000 cu.m/day, which is the excess water for their domestic and irrigation requirements. DENR should also require all resort hotels and large commercial establishments to have water recycling systems and/or desalination plants to have Environmental Compliance Certificates. Lastly, to impose stricter controls on sand and gravel extraction in the Metro Cebu rivers and basins to slow down river flow to the sea.

The long-term solutions are: The Mananga High Dam or the Jaclupan Dam. The engineering, construction, and safety concerns are all addressable but the social implications of relocating informal settlers will be a problem. Over the years, thousands have moved into the area, and unlike in China where it is easier to move people out of would-be inundated area, it may take time and a lot of money to move them to an acceptable area.

But this has to be done, if Metro Cebu will accommodate four million people. On the other hand, since the water shortage is only in the high-density metropolitan areas, maybe we should limit the population in the metropolitan areas and entice more people to live outside cities. And finally, we should plant more trees.

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