Include water infrastructures in ‘Build, Build, Build’

Published March 18, 2019, 12:33 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

E CARTOON Mar 18, 2019President Duterte ordered the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSSSS) to demand the release of water from Angat Dam by noon last Saturday, water good for 150 days, in the wake of a water shortage that has hit Metro Manila, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

If the water shortage was just due to some official making a wrong decision to start rationing water in line with established rules governing the water supply, this swift presidential order should end the problem.

But it seems the situation is not that simple. On the same day the President issued his order for the MWSS to demand the delivery of more water act from Angat Dam in Bulacan, an MWSS official said it may be difficult to carry out the order with the present infrastructure.

Angat Dam in Bulacan province now delivers 1,600 million liters of water a day to Manila Water for the Metro Manila East Zone and 2,400 million liters to Maynilad for the West Zone – a total of 4,000 million liters. From Angat, the water passes through various tunnels into three catchment basins, then through six aqueducts, two canals, and a conduit, to treatment plants of the two distribution concessioners. And all that infrastructure can handle only 4,000 million liters a day.

The problem of water shortage has been cropping up for some years at about this time of the year, when the demand rises along with the summer temperature. The population of Metro Manila has also been growing tremendously. This year, there is the additional phenomenon of El Niño – heat developing over the Pacific Ocean then spreading out in all directions.

Among the many proposed solutions for the ever-rising demand for water is the drawing of water from Laguna de Bay and from old wells and the setting up of additional treatment plants. There are proposals for additional dams in other provinces. There is a House bill requiring developers to include catchment basins in their projects to save rainwater. There are proposals for desalination plants to process seawater, as some nations in the Middle East have already begun to do.

All these many proposals have landed on desks in various existing government agencies. It may be time, as some have proposed, that a separate government department be set up to look at the entire problem of water – its availability, infrastructure for gathering, storing, and delivering it, how the total supply is to be apportioned among vaious users, notably agriculture, manufacturing, and households.

The current water supply problem now holding Metro Manila in its grip will take more than an order for immediate action from the bureaucracy. The solution calls for much greater study and planning and considerably more infrastructures. These could now be included in the overall “Build, Build, Build” program that is now moving forward at an increasing pace.