By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz and Francis Wakefield
La Mesa Dam’s water level is now down to 68.74 meters, its lowest in 21 years, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Thursday.
PAGASA hydrologist Sonia Serrano said the new-low was recorded Thursday, breaching the 68.75 meters in 1998.
The lack of rainfall over the La Mesa watershed has contributed to the dwindling level of the water reservoir.
PAGASA had earlier said the rainfall received by the country could continue to significantly drop due to a weak El Niño.
Water level at Angat Dam – which funnels water to Ipo Dam and then to La Mesa Dam – remains high at 199.63 meters as of Thursday. It is still above its minimum operating level of 180 meters.
To help mitigate the effects of the El Niño, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said that cloud-seeding operations started Thursday in Regions 2 and 12.
Undersecretary Ricardo B. Jalad, Civil Defense administrator and NDRRMC executive director, said the cloud-seeding operations have been scheduled from March 14 to May 21, 2019, after conducting joint area assessments.
Jalad said P18.3 million has been released to the Department of Agriculture (DA) regional offices for the cloud-seeding operations in partnership with the Philippine Air Force (PAF).
With the impact of El Niño, the National Irrigation Administration has rationed the release of water from its irrigation facilities in South Cotabato province and the neighboring areas due to the dwindling supplies these past weeks.
Engineer Orlando Tibang, head of the South Cotabato Irrigation Management Office, said Thursday the water level in several communal and river irrigation systems (RIS) in the area already dropped by 50 percent to 70 percent due to the lack of rain and the intense dry weather.
He said it mainly affected the Marbel 1 and 2 RIS, Allah RIS, Banga RIS, and the communal irrigation systems in Koronadal City and the municipalities of Tupi, Norala, and Lake Sebu.
“We’re hoping that the dry spell will not extend to (a) few more months or we will really have a big problem here,” Tibang said in a press briefing.
In the case of the Marbel 2 RIS, he said a significant portion of its 1,700-hectare service area has so far been affected by the decreasing water supply.
The irrigation facility, which covers portions of Koronadal City and Lutayan town in Sultan Kudarat, has only served some 729 hectares of farmlands, he said.
Tibang said the Marbel 1 RIS currently serves 1,355 hectares in parts of Koronadal City and Tantangan town but portions of the area have already suffered due to declining supplies.
The Banga RIS, which serves parts of Banga and Norala towns, currently supplies some 1,357 hectares but the water releases were rationed to only 50 percent of the service area, he said.
The Allah RIS Dam 1 has also experienced supply problems but has so far maintained its services to 5,388 hectares of farmlands in parts of Banga, Surallah and Sto. Niño towns, he said.
The official said its Dam 2, which serves Sto. Niño and Norala towns is currently closed due to periodic maintenance and will not reopen until May.
For the communal irrigation systems (CIS), he said the water levels have dropped to as low as 30 percent based on their latest monitoring.
Those severely affected were the CIS facilities in Sitio Supon, Barangay San Jose in Koronadal City, Barangay Tinago in Norala and in Lake Sebu town, he said.
If the dry spell, which is spawned by the El Niño phenomenon, would extend until June or July, Tibang said a significant portion of the area’s irrigated farms would be severely affected.
Meanwhile, light rains are expected in Batanes, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Abra, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Apayao, and Aurora due to the tail-end of cold front that will prevail over Northern and Central Luzon, PAGASA said.
Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales will be partly cloudy to cloudy skies with isolated light rains.
Mindanao will experience partly cloudy to cloudy skies with isolated rain showers due to localized thunderstorms. PAGASA warned the public of sudden heavy rains due to severe thunderstorms that may cause flash floods over low-lying areas. (With a report from PNA)