Water crisis will be permanent if people won’t conserve

 

By Rose de la Cruz

 

The supply crisis for potable water within the eastern concession area of Manila Water Co. Inc. just highlights the disturbing reality that water sources are drying up faster than population growth because of wastefulness and wanton neglect for conserving this finite God-given asset.

 

What really brought hysteria to Manila Water Company Inc’s concession customers is that the company did not give concrete, easy-to-understand and comprehensive service interruption advisories, which left their households dry for days, even weeks.

 

But as Jeric Sevilla, MWCI corporate communications officer, said their advisories turned out to be inaccurate because the panic for supply by customers within its concession area disabled the smaller San Juan reservoir from filling up (which MWCI tanks augment between 12 midnight until 4 a.m. daily) and the water failed to reach the household taps at the time they were supposed to arrive.

 

In an interview with ABS-CBN, Sevilla said affected were some 52,000 households in 230 barangays (although Sevilla says it could be more than that).

 

Overuse

 

“This is because we have overused since 2018 our allocation of 1,600 million liters per day from Angat Dam and the additional 80 to 100 million liters supply augmentation from La Mesa is not coming because that dam is already below the critical level of 69 meters (now at 68.9 meters, 12-year low, as of the interview last Sunday),” he said.

 

But Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System (forerunner of MWCI and Maynilad Water Services Inc) said MWCI shouldn’t have used the La Mesa Dam as this is supposed to be reserve and the “last resort.” Manila Water should have just used the allocation from Angat as what Maynilad had been doing. (Since Manila Water has exclusive use of La Mesa Dam and treatment plant, it filters all supplies from Angat to give better water quality to its customers).

 

Sevilla said the low pressure and water interruption will be felt the whole dry season “dahil umaasa lang ang mga dam sa ulan, the only way to refill them. For 40 years we have been depending solely on Angat Dam,” he explained.

 

He said customers must expect to have less supplies in the coming weeks or until May or June when the first drop of rain comes. But with an El Nino (extreme dry phenomenon) around this could last even longer than that, he added.

 

He said MWCI is doing all it can to stretch whatever supply it gets from Angat Dam that passes through La Mesa.

 

Big business for drums

 

Misfortunes usually bring business to allied enterprises like those selling drums and plastic containers.

 

In Mandaluyong for instance a junk-like type operation that stored drums over the years suddenly sold out most of its stocks for four days, when the short supply began.

 

Long queues of consumers waiting to buy drums were photographed and drums were selling at P900 to P1,000 or more for the 160 to 200 liters.

 

Even water refilling stations—whose source of potable water is unknown—have been selling 5-gallon containers like hotcakes and the smaller liter PET bottles were sold just as soon as they were refilled.

 

Fire trucks and barangay vehicles were used to haul supplies from fire hydrants with many affected residents themselves queueing right at the hydrant for water.

 

Deep wells—for those that are still in operation—were also the main source of drinking water for the thirsty Metro Manilans.


Water sharing

 

On Tuesday, Maynilad pledged to transfer some of its supply to Manila Water as the latter grapples with supply shortage.

 

While water sharing could be done as early as March, Maynilad said it can surely transfer supply to Manila Water by April yet, according to Maynilad water supply operations head Ronaldo Padua, who attended the emergency meeting called by MWSS Administrator Reynaldo Velasco.

 

Padua told Rappler the maximum limit for sharing is 50 million liters per day (MLD) but the actual supply will depend on the study on the water situation. But initially 8MLD can be “doled out.” The areas where both concessionaires’ facilities meet will be served quickest such as Quezon City, Padua said.

 

In the southern Metro, Maynilad’s facilities in Paranque can supply MWCI’s Taguig consumers but additional work must be done to divert Maynilad’s supply to Mandaluyong and Pasig.

 

Water sharing or the cross-border flow was previously done with Manila Water sharing its supply to Maynilad during the 2010 El Nino period. But since Maynilad improved its facilities the supply has stabilized. Maynilad invested in small water reserves and pump stations which helped them prepare in times of depleted water supply from Angat and La Mesa, Padua noted.

 

"We still rely on Angat Dam, but we still need small reservoirs in different locations in our pipe network. [It's] partly correct [that] we don't rely that much on Angat because we use Laguna Lake as an additional water source," he told Rappler.

 

More water tanks

 

A suggestion by senatorial candidate Romulo Macalintal that local governments establish water tank systems to give people easier access to potable water especially in emergencies like fires makes the most sense than berating the government’s lack of water program—since the water utilities have been privatized by then President Ramos. He also suggested that government should also explore other sources of water so a shortage could be avoided.

 

The weather bureau said the water level at Angat Dam is still normal at 200 meters, below the normal 212 meters but still good for customers’ requirements. The bureau is not convinced that El Nino is to blame for the low water supply


"Kung El Niño ito, dapat 'yung ibang dams din nagbabaan, eh hindi naman," said Rusy Abastillas of PAGASA's Climate Monitoring and Prediction Section to CNN Philippines.

 

The (Pangilinan-Consunji-owned) Maynilad concession area covers Manila (excluding Sta. Ana and San Andres); Caloocan; Las Pinas; Malabon; Muntinlupa; Navotas; Pasay; Paranawue and Valenzuela and the northern and western parts of Quezon City and parts of Makati (west of the South Superhighway). In Cavite, Maynila covers Bacoor, Cavite City; Imus, Kawit, Noveleta and Rosario.

 

Manila Water’s east zone consists of Makati (except the southwestern portion); Mandaluyong; southeastern part of Manila; Marikina; Pasig; Pateros; central and eastern Quezon City; San Juan and Taguig and Rizal province.  In 2009, its 25-year concession agreement with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System was extended by another 15 years.

 

Desalination plants

 

Rep. Ron Salo, Kabayan partylist, said big dams are not the solution to the current water shortage but “quick-deploy solutions like mobile desalination and water purification assets like the ones deployed during super typhoon Yolanda in 2013 and Ondoy. Such assets can provide water for drinking, irrigation and cleaning purposes.”

 

He said he would support funding for more small water impounding systems and mini-hydro facilities because "these have less adverse environmental impact than massive dams."

 

The Department of Budget and Management has begun putting together the 2020 national budget proposal to be submitted to Congress next July.

 

"When it is rainy season, our dam water overflows, while during El Nino summers water pressure drops and farm field are parched dry. Everyone's affected," Salo said.

 

Purification plants

 

"For medium-to-long-term solution, water purification plants can be built on the banks of Laguna de Bay and other inland freshwater zones that are not integrated protected areas, while desalination plants would be near shores that are also not covered by our environment protection laws. With current technologies, we can find long-term solution to our country’s water concerns,” he added.

 

Water rates cut

 

To assuage the consumers’ water woes, MWCI’s Sevilla said his company has scheduled to reduce this March its water charges by as much as P5 in the bills of those consuming 30 cubic meters per month due to the foreign currency differential adjustment beginning April 1. This announcement seems ill-timed as consumers are more saddled by lack of supply than water rates.

 

The company also announced that it would revive some of its deep-well facility to augment water supply in its concession area.

 

Global water crisis

 

Blogger Leah Schleifer last Aug. 24, 2017 cited seven reasons for the global water crisis:

 

1)      Climate change had made dry areas drier and precipitation more variable and extreme. The climate change phenomenon called Hadley Cell expansion deprives the equatorial regions like the sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central America of life-giving rainwater.

2)      As populations increase and incomes grow, so does water demand. At 7.5 billion people now, which is projected to grow by 2.3 billion by 2050, growing incomes exacerbate the need for water-intensive products like meat and energy from fossil fuels.

3)      Groundwater depletion: With 30 percent of the Earth’s water underground in aquifers, which is used for farming, drinking and industrial processes at dangerously unsustainable rates, global water supplies are susceptible to this hidden and growing threat.

4)      Water infrastructure is in a dismal state of disrepair from treatment plants, pipes and sewer systems. In the US, 6 billion gallons of treated water are lost daily from pipe leaks. Many localities ignore growing infrastructure issues until disaster strikes, as it did in California.

5)      Natural infrastructure (or a healthy ecosystem vital to clean, plentiful water) is being ignored. They filter pollutants, buffer against floods and storms and regulate water supply. Plants and trees are essential for replenishing groundwater. Watersheds have lost up to 22 percent of their forests in the past 4 years.

6)      Wasted water:   Although water is a renewable resource, it’s often wasted through inefficient practices like flood irrigation and water-intensive wet-cooling at the thermal power plants. We also fail to treat the water we pollute with 80 percent of wastewater discharged back to nature without further treatment or reuse.

7)      Wrong pricing: water globally is seriously undervalued, not reflective of total cost of service from transport via infrastructure to treatment and disposal. This has led to misallocation and lack of investments in infrastructure and new water technologies that use water saving technologies.

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