Public urged to conserve water

Published June 17, 2019, 5:35 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz and Madelaine Miraflor

Reduced water pressure, rotational service, or water interruptions may be implemented once the water level at Angat Dam dips further to 160-meter critical mark in a few days, the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) warned on Monday.

DANGEROUS BEAUTY — The 49-year-old Angat Dam undergoes long-awaited rehabilitation to ensure it does not reach the doomsday scenario of a dam break in the event of a very strong earthquake. (Freddie C. Velez)
Angat Dam in Bulacan (Freddie Velez/ MANILA BULLETIN)

As of Monday morning, the water level of Angat Dam has already declined to 162.39 meters from last Sunday’s 162.82 meters. This is 17.61 meters below the dam’s minimum operating water level of 180 meters.

Ipo Dam has also gone down beyond its maintaining level of 101 meters. As of Monday, its water level was at 100.73 meters. La Mesa Dam, on the other hand, was at 68.43 meters, slightly below its critical level of 69 meters.

With this development, Manila Water President and Chief Executive Officer Ferdinand Dela Cruz urged the public to conserve water.

The Ayala-led Manila Water Company, Inc. also began warning consumers of a possible supply interruption that may last for several hours every day as a mitigating measure to the declining water level from Metro Manila’s major water source.

Dela Cruz said the company doesn’t want to cause another panic, but Metro Manila is facing a water supply shortage and there is a need for the public to conserve water.

“The supply of Angat Dam is diminishing. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just that the rains are not coming,” Dela Cruz said.

“So there will be periods of service interruptions. We are just preparing the public,” he added.

“As Angat level goes down and releases to concessionaires are reduced, there will be an impact to our service,” Dela Cruz said.

“We will try to make sure that reservoirs are build up, but we can’t say that it is all good. We continue to appeal for the public to conserve water,” he added.

NWRB Executive Director Sevillo David Jr. said that although the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has already announced the official onset of the rainy season in the country, there is an “insignificant” rainfall over the Angat watershed for the past weeks.

‘Heavy rainfall unlikely’

Likewise, PAGASA sees that heavy rainfall is “highly unlikely” this week due to a monsoon break, he cited.

It is estimated that water elevation in the reservoir will breach the low-level mark of 160 meters by this weekend if the prevailing conditions in Angat Dam persist and no sufficient rainfall is received in Angat watershed.

The 160-meter level is considered critical for domestic water supply.

Under this scenario, David said several measures will be undertaken to manage the remaining water including the operationalization of the Angat Dam low-level outlet, the bottom channel capable of releasing water below 160 meters.

He explained that they are currently testing the low-level outlet, which was last used in July 2010. The water level at Angat Dam then was 157.57 meters, the lowest in history.

So far, David said the initial releases from the low-level outlet are “manageable,” meaning the water can still be treated or processed.

He also noted that the dam’s low-level outlet can supply water even if the Angat reaches the 150-meter level.

Cloud-seeding operations and the re-activation of Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System’s (MWSS) deep wells are also continuously implemented to address the situation.

NWRB is also considering reducing the water allocation to MWSS, which is currently at 46 cubic meters per second (cms).

Angat Dam supplies about 96 percent of Metro Manila’s domestic water needs, releasing about 4 million liters of water per day (mld). Of this, Manila Water gets an allocation of 1,600 mld, while West Zone concessionaire Maynilad Water Services, Inc. is allowed to get the rest or about 2,400 mld.

David said the NWRB, MWSS, Maynilad, and Manila Water officials will be having a meeting today (June 18) to determine other measures and agree on the water allocation for the domestic water supply.

Should they agree on lower water allocation, David said this could affect the regular delivery of water service provided by Metro Manila concessionaires, Maynilad and Manila Water.

Water pressure, service rotation, or interruption is expected in some areas served by the water concessionaires, he added.

NWRB cut water allocation to 32 cms in July 2010, when an El Niño episode adversely affected the amount of rainfall over the Angat watershed.

But NWRB assured the public that the government and private sector are doing everything to lessen the adverse impact of the declining water level at Angat Dam.

The worst year so far

Starting with its supply deficit issue back in March up until now, this could easily be the worst year for Manila Water. Dela Cruz thinks so, too.

He said it seems like this year is all about more expenses and less profit for the Ayala-led firm.

“There will be the financial impact this year,” Dela Cruz said. “But our focus is more on providing supply.”

It was in March when the company caught itself in a supply mess that affected millions of its customers, which experienced low to no water supply for weeks.

To try to make up for it, the company implemented a voluntary and one-time bill waiver program for its consumers, a move that costs Manila Water P350 to P360 million.

This is on top of the penalties imposed by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) to Manila Water for failing to meet its service obligation and provide its customers with water supply 24/7.

The fine amounted to P1.13 billion, of which P534.05 million will be used by the company to implement bill rebates – as credit payment or as overpayment – for some of its customers beginning June, reflective of their May consumption.

“We can fund all of this internally so far,” Dela Cruz said, adding that this will all add burden to the company’s overall operational expenses for the year.

Managing supply and demand

Meanwhile, David said managing both water supply and demand is essential to maintain water availability.

“We have been constantly appealing to the public to conserve water and we are now repeating the plea,” he said.

It is expected that the water level in Angat Dam will increase in the coming months with the onset of the rainy season.

Water supply will likely normalize during the peak of southwest monsoon or habagat season between July and September but the public is still encouraged to continue conserving water to help in the Angat reservoir’s water level recovery.

PAGASA said the weak El Niño episode, which brought way below normal rainfall over most parts of the country will likely prevail through August and has a chance to continue until the end of 2019.