Metro Cebu water crisis in 2023
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - June 25, 2019 - 12:00am

Since I left the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) some years ago, I have written about water two times to share institutional knowledge and concerns about water problems. The recent water crisis in Metro Manila, which is now on its third month, and the severe water crisis in Chennai, India, compels me to raise the alarm about the impending water crisis in Metro Cebu which is likely to happen in 2023.

In the village where I live, the association president called me last week to ask about the isochlor/salinity line in Cebu City, and about a proposal to require all houses in the village to have a rainwater cistern as the water supply for the village is getting inadequate. In the adjacent village, the homeowners recently were advised of a 33% water rate increase to P20/cu.m. as the cost of pumping the water and repairing/replacing the distribution pipes are increasing.

A water crisis happens when at least 25% of the people are experiencing water shortage for at least 30 days. As of last week, 70% of Metro Manila residents are short of water for as long as 12 hours a day and this has been going on two weeks at a time.

This is a water crisis. Chennai, India, has been in the news as their situation is even worse as water supply only meets 50% of the needs of the people. Cebu’s water shortage last month at the height of the El Nino affected only 16% of the population, but this have been a yearly recurring problem in the last 10 years and increasing.

The water situation in Metro Cebu is precarious and has to be addressed to avoid a crisis. Of the 400,000 cu.m. daily supply from MCWD and private sources, 70% are from deep wells and 30% are from surface water and desalination plants.

This already includes the Carmen bulk water supply and other contracted suppliers. Latest available data shows that wells in the Ramos and Fuente area are already non-drinkable due to the high chloride content. Some wells in these areas and up to Casals Village in Mabolo have to be drilled deeper, as the water table has dropped by 20 feet over the last 20 years.

This is an alarming drop in the water table, that can only be caused by over pumping and inadequate recharge of the aquifer. At this rate of depletion, a lot of private wells in the city will run dry in a few years. I suspect that the limestone composition of Cebu Island is preventing land subsidence as is happening in the Metro Manila area, even if the water table is lowering.

Water consumption/demand in Metro Cebu have been increasing at 7% annually due to the rapid urbanization, construction of more commercial and residential buildings, and the overall increase in per capita water consumption as disposable income of the resident’s increase. At this compounded rate of increase, Metro Cebu will need at least a 40% increase or 160,000 cu.m. in water supply by 2023.

In the MCWD rolling 20-year planning horizon, almost all the options have been explored but not all are realized. Additional supply from outside Metro Cebu has been and will be tapped, dams have to be built, distribution management and systems loss have to be optimized. There is, however, a need for a multi-sectoral approach to this water problem to involve not only the government but also the consumers from all sectors of society. Demand management can be encouraged by realistic water pricing, a water levy on private commercial wells and enforcement of cisterns on commercial buildings. Socio-political initiatives on reforestation and water catchments in the mountain barangays have to be pursued in earnest to recharge the aquifers. And cooperation with the neighboring localities outside of Metro Cebu has to be established on mutually beneficial economic arrangements for water supply sharing.

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