By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
Supply of domestic water would remain normal even if water level at Angat Dam, the major source of Metro Manila’s water supply, may breach its 180-meter low water level by end of April.
Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) hydrologist Gine Nievares gave this assurance, citing the National Water Resources Board’s (NWRB’s) protocol in the release of water from Angat Dam.
Under the NWRB protocol, water releases for irrigation needs in Bulacan and Pampanga will be temporarily halted once the dam’s level falls below its 180-meter minimum operating level as domestic water supply to Metro Manila is prioritized over irrigation and power generation.
But Nievares said that if the water level at Angat Dam reaches the 160- meter critical level, domestic supply in Metro Manila will be significantly affected. The dam breached its 160-meter critical level in 2010.
As of Sunday, the current level of Angat Dam – which supplies 96 percent of Metro Manila’s domestic water needs – was 195.91 meters, lower than the 196.24 meters the previous day.
The projected 180-meter level by end of April was based on the weekly average deviation of Angat Dam’s water level, monthly rainfall forecast, and current water allocation for irrigation and domestic needs, Nievares said.
Nievares said the last time Angat Dam reached its low water level of 180 meters was in May 2014 and May 2015. An El Niño event also occurred in 2015.
Water bill adjustment pushed
Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe on Monday pressed the Manila Water Company, Inc. to implement a fair and just adjustment in the bill of its affected customers for the month of March and the succeeding months without water supply.
Poe reiterated her call as she expressed belief that the apology of the East Zone water concessionaire is best expressed to consumers by lowering its charges for the months when it failed to supply water. She believes the Ayala-led company will be able to manage, anyway.
“Manila water can absorb it, their income will not dry up. It is a drop in their bucket of profits. An apology is best expressed monetarily,” the chair of the Senate Committee on Public Services said in a statement.
“Manila Water should not be reaping profits even if the taps have run dry…Kung walang tumulong tubig sa gripo, bakit tayo magbabayad?” she added.
The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) met officials of the Manila Water on Monday to discuss the adjustments.
MWSS Chief Regulator Patrick Ty said Manila Water was given until next week to explain why the government should not penalize it based on their concession agreement.
But uncertainties loom on how the government will make the Ayala-led Manila Water accountable for the water supply interruption that 1.2 million of its consumers had to bear over the last weeks.
Ty also admitted that MWSS could not impose administrative penalties to the company even if they caused inconvenience to millions of its customers.
“They were given notice to explain. After that, we will proceed to study how much [rebate] or if there is violation. Then we will decide a corresponding action,” Ty told reporters on Monday.
“The set up would be is [since] we can’t impose fines, we can just impose rebate because that is part of the penalties based on their concession agreement [with MWSS]. Another option is the cancellation of concession agreement,” he added.
During the meeting, Ty asked officials of Manila Water the possibility of not collecting the payment for March water billing from its customers who suffered from the water interruption.
“[To order Manila Water not to collect payments] is beyond MWSS-RO [MWSS-Regulatory Office]. But (we) would give them the moral pressure. We will ask them to do the right thing,” he said, but adding that the priority right now is for Manila Water to stabilize its supply.
Poe said MWSS must be vigilant in making sure that the public is not shortchanged by the computation of the bill reduction.
She said the bill adjustment should come after the meeting of MWSS and Manila Water, and be immediately felt by the people in their next billing.
“This should be treated as an urgent matter, and should be felt by the consumers as soon as possible,” she appealed.
Meanwhile, seven business groups led by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) said private water concessionaires should be allowed the option to provide the raw water supply for their respective zones.
The business groups stressed this as they expressed full support to the directive of President Duterte to solve the water service disruption in the East Zone concession of the Ayala-owned Manila Water Co. within 150 days.
“We are heartened by the fact that measures have been developed in consultation with and cooperation of all stakeholders, including government water agencies, regulators and the two private concessionaires. Accordingly, we are encouraged and confident that these interim measures will adequately resolve the water shortage and bring relief to consumers in the shortest possible time,” according to the joint statement.
For the longer term, the groups cited the resoluteness manifested by the Duterte administration in undertaking solutions to ensure a sustainable supply of raw water is most encouraging.
“Looking to the future, we also need to secure a secondary water source to address the growing needs of Metro Manila and its surrounding areas,” the business groups said.
Already, Prime Infra of businessman Enrique K. Razon recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Manila Water to cooperate in the possible development of the Wawa Bulk Water Supply Project. The agreement formalizes the formation of a technical team that will conduct a technical study, of which shall be reviewed and approved by the MWSS. (With reports from Vanne P. Terrazola, Madelaine B. Miraflor, and Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat)