Palace eyeing solutions to PH water challenges

By Argyll Cyrus Geducos

Malacañang is now preparing for short- and long-term solutions to address the country’s water needs, and proposals that will require executive action and the passage of new legislation.

In a statement, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said that heads and representatives of the different government agencies had agreed in a meeting to submit to President Duterte a draft executive order (EO) strengthening the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) and addressing the fragmentation of the water sector.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles (SCREENSHOT / RTVM / FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN)
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles (SCREENSHOT / RTVM / FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN)

“The agencies present at the meeting recognize that this institutional setup is problematic. For example, there are four agencies involved in resource assessment, four involved in policy, seven in water supply, four in sanitation, five in water quality management, and six in watershed management,” Nograles said.

Currently there are at least 30 agencies involved in water resources management. Among these are the departments of National Defense (DND), Agriculture (DA), Energy (DOE), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and Science and Technology (DOST),

Other agencies are the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), and NWRB.

However, Nograles said that there is no single repository of water data, and no regularly updated water availability data.

“This is an untenable situation,” Nograles lamented.

Meanwhile, Nograles said two draft bills were endorsed for approval and submission to the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC). These bills would create two separate bodies involving water: one focused on economic and financial regulation; and another responsible for policy formulation and resource regulation.

“One of the proposed agencies that will be formed will act as the apex body for the water resources sector. This agency will consolidate and reconcile water-related policy, planning, and programming mandates of the different agencies involved in water resource management. It will likewise ensure the efficient allocation of water resources across sectors,” he explained.

The second body, on the other hand, will be an independent and quasi-judicial body for water supply and sanitation. The office will ensure quality performance of water concessionaires and ensure transparency and predictability in economic regulation of water service providers.

Also among the short-term measures that will be undertaken to address the water supply problems in Metro Manila is the activation by the NWRB of the standby deep wells designated for use during natural disasters.

“There are a total of 109 of these wells in NCR, and the NWRB will work with the MWSS to identify which wells can be tapped, and to ensure that water quality in these wells is evaluated and constantly monitored,” Nograles said.

The Palace executive added that the agencies agreed that the national government should spearhead efforts to optimize water resources that are expected to become more limited with the onset of the El Niño.

Nograles also said that there is a need for a government-led policy for the sustainable optimization of water resources.

“For instance, the water run-off used by hydro power plants to move their turbines, tinatapon na lang natin sa ilog,” he said.

“What’s absurd is that the households near and along those rivers, wala silang tubig for domestic use. Aside from households, we should find a way to make use of run-off water from hydro power plants to water farms and industries,” he added.

Earlier this week, President Duterte has threatened to ax officials of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage Chairman (MWSS) over the recent water interruptions which affected several parts of Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

Duterte also told the officials to submit a report on the water shortage before April 7, after which he will decide whether heads will roll or whether the contracts of the concessionaires will be terminated.