Weirs,  instead of dams,  for our water problem  

Published March 20, 2019, 12:26 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

E CARTOON MAR 20, 2019The need for more dams, catchment basins,  and other means  to store water for use in our fast- growing cities  has  once again drawn national attention  in the wake of the water shortage that hit Metro Manila’s east zone last week, prompting  the House of Representatives  to hold hearings on the problem.

Among the proposed  water projects was the Kaliwa Dam  at the foot of the Sierra Madre  mountains , but  opposition to the project has come from various quarters,  and for many reasons.  It  would inundate  the ancestral domain of the Dumagat Remontados who had lived in the Sierra Madre for centuries. The proposed dam  was  to be built over the Infanta Fault; should an earthquake  damage  the dam , a huge flood would sweep downstream along  the Kaliwa River where  some 100,000 people  live.

The tribe and the river residents have found  an ally in the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) which  said that the World Commission on Dams itself has noted that while dams have made  important contributions to human development, “in  too many cases, an unacceptable and often  unnecessary  price has been made  to secure those benefits, especially in social and environmental terms, by people displaced, by communities downstream, by taxpayers, and by  the natural environment.”

When Pantabangan  Dam was  built by President Ferdinand Marcos,  an entire town had to be flooded after its population was relocated. To this day, it is said, when  waters ebb  in  the dam, the tower of the submerged  town  church  would stick  out  of the water,  undoubtedly   a painful  sight to those who  used  to worship in the church.

In  the  wake of  the opposition to Kaliwa Dam, an alternative project was proposed  in 2009 by  a Japanese  company which presented  an unsolicited proposal  for  a  Kaliwa  Intake Weir. A weir is  a small  barrier across a river, that alters the river’s flow and raises its level, but not to the extent that  a big dam would.

The Global  Utilities  Development Co. (GUDC)  of Osaka, Japan,  presented the plan to the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) in 2009, when the two signed a memorandum of understanding. The GUDC resubmitted the proposal  in 2017. The weir would  be only seven meters high, with a 16-kilometer-long tunnel and  a water treatment plant,

In the wake of rising opposition to dams in general because  these tend to inundate  established  communities  and pose danger to  people downstream in case of damage to the dam  from earthquakes or other natural causes,  the  idea of weirs instead of dams merits  closer  study and consideration by the government.

The Kaliwa dam has been held in abeyance for 30 years now. It still has no Environment  Compliance Certificate as required by RA 7586.  And  the indigenous people have also not given their  Free Prior and Informed Consent as required by RA 8371.

Metro Manila needs new sources of water to meet its ever rising demand  which is now being  met, rather inadequately by Angat Dam. The Kaliwa Dam  has  not been able to move forward  all these many years because of fierce opposition from  mountain communities which will lose their ancient  tribal lands and from  downstream communities who fear a catastrophe  in case  of  damage to  the  dam. A weir,  or a much smaller river  barrier,   as proposed  by  a Japanese  company  might be the answer to these  concerns.