By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz, Ben Rosario, and Hannah Torregoza
The water level in Angat Dam remains sufficient to supply the domestic requirements of Metro Manila residents during the dry season.
National Water Resources Board (NWRB) Executive Director Sevillo David Jr. gave the assurance Tuesday, stressing that the water regulator has in fact increased allocation for the domestic water needs of Metro Manila residents, amid the dwindling water level of La Mesa Dam, which is now down further to 68.85 meters as of Tuesday.
“So far, we can maintain the maximum water allocation coming from Angat Dam because there is still sufficient water supply that can last until the end of dry season,” David said.
“We are prioritizing the requirements for domestic water supply for Metro Manila by providing the maximum allocation from the Angat Dam,” David said, pointing out that about 97 percent of Metro Manila’s domestic requirements are sourced from Angat Dam.
The NWRB, an attached agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, is in-charge of the allocation of water supply from the Angat Dam to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) for the irrigation of farmlands in Bulacan and Pampanga, and Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) for the water requirements of households in Metro Manila.
It is currently implementing 48 cubic meters per second (cms) allocation for the domestic water supply of residents in Metro Manila, up by two cms from February’s 46 cms.
The current allocation coming from Angat Dam is distributed by the MWSS for water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water.
Although down from 200.59 meters last Monday to 200.28 meters on Tuesday, Angat Dam’s water level remains above its 180-meter minimum operating level.
He also pointed out that only a portion of water is allocated for irrigation, “but if this affects the water security of households in Metro Manila, we would likely reduce the water allocation for irrigation.”
The NWRB chief also noted that they are working with MWSS for the identification of deep wells and other groundwater sources to augment the supply of water in areas affected by the low water level of La Mesa Dam.
David is hoping that the identification process can be completed on Tuesday or Wednesday (March 12 or 13) to immediately address demand in areas experiencing water interruptions for the past few days.
New water sources needed
Former presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino called on the government to seriously consider tapping Wawa Dam in Rodriguez, Rizal, as this is the fastest and more economical way of averting water crisis in Metro Manila and adjoining localities getting water.
“Iyong Wawa should be fast-tracked, matatagal na nasa pipeline iyan,” Tolentino, who is running for senator in the 2019 mid-term elections, told reporters during an interview.
On the other hand, House Minority Leader Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said projects proposing to optimize Metro Manila water supply coming from the Umiray River in Aurora-Quezon should be immediately implemented.
Re-electionist Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara urged the government to roll out an “El Niño action plan” in food-growing areas in the country before the drought caused by the weather phenomenon unleashes its full brunt on farmers who are also grappling with low prices of rice and coconut.
“A man-made disaster over a natural disaster is a double whammy that will leave less food on the table for families and less income for farmers,” said the senator, who is running under the platform “Alagang Angara.”
“There are threats to agriculture in multiple fronts. Government should help farmers battle the many crises they are facing,” he added.
The lawmaker from Aurora said the government can help by “flooding areas hit by drought or prone to El Niño with assistance.”
“Timely aid is one way of preventing farmers’ anger from boiling over. El Niño can also ignite dissatisfaction,” Angara said.
“Ang init ng panahon ay nagpapataas din ng galit, (The heat also increases anger) Angara said, referring to the 2016 El Niño episode when the government “came too late, too little.”
Sources of funds
Angara, chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and vice chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, said there are at least four sources of government funds which can be merged to fund El Niño mitigation measures.
These are the Calamity Fund, or what is officially called as the National Disaster Risk Management and Mitigation (NDRMM) Fund; the budget of agriculture agencies like the NIA; the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund under the recently passed Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law; and the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) funds to aid distressed families.
According to Angara, the P20-billion NDRMM fund can finance preparatory activities in anticipation of an imminent disaster, while the P36-billion NIA fund can be used for water-saving measures in government-managed irrigation systems.
He pointed out both can be implemented through a work scheme that will tap farmers as laborers, “thus providing income to people who would work on infrastructure that will benefit them.”
Another funding that can be frontloaded for El Niño mitigation, he said is the P10 billion for safety nets mandated under RA 11203.
Angara also said that under the DSWD budget for 2019 are several assistance programs that can be harnessed to shield farmers from the effects of the forecasted dry spell.