Cebu’s water crisis needs long term solution

CEBU CITY – Cebu’s water crisis needs long term solution as this issue is a regular recurrence and various sectors have expressed concern over the intrusion of politics in water woes.

The past months, Cebu and its neighboring towns and cities experienced massive water shortage due to the low water production from wells, from the Mananga river and the Buhisam dam and from other water facilities all over Metro Cebu.

A man fills containers with water from drums that serve as portable reservoir outside his residence in Deca Homes in Barangay Cabantian, Davao City. Village residents been experience a shortage in water supply for months. (Keith Bacongco|Manila Bulletin)

A man fills containers with water from drums that serve as portable reservoir outside his home (Keith Bacongco/ MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Politics has also crept into the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) water issue.  Last month, Cebu City mayor Edgardo Labella fired five members of the MCWD board of directors which prompted MCWD general manager Eugencio Singson, Jr to resign effective November 1.  The assistant GM Stephen Yee was named acting general manager.

The Visayas Association of Water Districts and Central Visayas Association of Water Districts issued statements of support to MCWD amid the so called “illegal firing of its BOD.”  The groups questioned the lack of due process and expressed concern over its effect on the morale of water district employees.

They also hoped the Local Water Utilities Administration (LUWA) would resolve the issue immediately to avoid precedence for other mayors to fire BOD members in the other water districts in the country.

Meanwhile, low water supply, shortage and interruptions in Metro Cebu continue to hound MCWD and its clients clamor for more water and long-term solutions to this problem.

According to MCWD spokesperson Charmain Kara, population growth, business opportunities and in-migration are factors that contributed greatly to the increase in the water demand in Metro Cebu and MCWD cannot cope with this demand.

While the demand increased, over extraction, nitrate contamination and saltwater intrusion contributed to the depletion and shut down of MCWD’s several water sources, Kara noted.  The water demand in Metro Cebu is estimated at 500,000 cu. m. per day in 2019 but its production is only about 238,000 cu.m. per day.

Kara added that MCWD is committed to find small to long-term solutions to the water scarcity problem and it is inviting proposals from property owners with available water supply and those who have technologies to  provide solutions to Metro Cebu’s water shortage problem.

MCWD water sources at a closer look

According to Kara MCWD’s Buhisan Dam’s current production is only at 3,000 cu. m. per day which is less than 50 percent of its normal yield during the rainy season.

Historically, the Buhisan Dam’s production is at 7,000 cu. m. per day, except during the summer months. At the height of the dry spell this year, the Buhisan Dam had zero production in March and recovered only in July.  Its production continued decreasing in August until it reached the 3,000 cubic meters per day-level in September due to the lack of rain that feed directly to Buhisan Watershed, Kara said.

“MCWD is relying on the increased yield from the Jaclupan Facility which is sourced from the Mananga River to serve the areas that were supposed to be getting the supply from Buhisan Dam which include parts of Cebu City,” she added.

To serve MCWD clients, it accepted Pilipinas Water Resources Inc.’s (PWRI) proposal to increase its bulk supply in the Mambaling injection point by 5,000 cu. m. per day tentatively within the year which means its contracted volume will increase to 10,000 cu. m. per day.

This will benefit MCWD consumers in Mambaling, Inayawan, Cogon Pardo, Pardo, Quiot, Kinasang-an, Basak Pardo, Basak San Nicolas, Duljo-Fatima, Sawang Calero, Suba and Pasil in Cebu City, Kara added.

In August, MCWD reported a production deficit of 13,000 cu. m. per day due to the shutdown of one of its private supplier’s wells due to saltwater intrusion and two other wells reported to have reduced yields.

The shutdown of the well in Consolacion and the lowering of the daily production from Cebu Manila Water Development Inc. by 3,000 cu. m. per day affected the water services to MCWD consumers in Compostela, Liloan, Consolacion, parts of Mandaue and the whole of Mactan island, Kara said.

The reduction in the production of one of MCWD’s wells in Talamban affected the water supply for consumers in Barangays Banilad, Luz, parts of Lahug, Kamputhaw and Apas and for two months, MCWD already lost a total volume of close to 20,000 cu. m. per day.

Recent developments and agreements

According to Kara, MCWD and the Girl Scouts of the Philippines (GSP) signed a 10-year agreement for the use portions of GSP’s properties in Barangay Kalunasan, Cebu City for two new wells to benefit consumers from Barangay Capitol Site and Barangay Kalunasan and eventually solve the water supply problems of the Cebu City Jail.

Apart from the GSP wells, MCWD also awarded a bulk water supply contract to Mactan Rock Industries Inc. for a 3,000-cubic-meter per day supply for Barangay Capitol Site and Kalunasan, Kara said these barangays are among the areas with inadequate supply since 2016, Kara said.

MCWD Board of Directors also identified the Mananga and Lusaran dams and a desalination plant as its long-term solutions while small-scale desalination plants and bulk supply projects as medium-term measures to address the water scarcity.

Kara bared that in November, MCWD commissioned two wells with a combined volume of over 2,000 cubic meters per day and MCWD will develop 30 wells as part of its short-term solutions to the water supply shortage.

She added that MCWD commissioned a new well in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City on November 2 and “this well site is one of over 20 areas in Cebu City where MCWD develops.  This well is located on a Cebu City owned lot and is expected to yield about 900 cubic meters per day and will improve the supply for consumers along Salinas Drive and parts of Barangays Lahug and Apas.”

According to Kara this is the first successful result of the partnership of MCWD and the Cebu City Government in addressing the water supply shortage.

For over a year now, MCWD has been in talks with local government units, national government agencies and non-government organizations to develop wells in city or barangay owned lots, school and church properties.

MCWD currently has over 120 wells in its service area and is regularly monitoring them to ensure the Groundwater Balance is managed and protect them from damage from over-extraction, saltwater intrusion and other contaminants, Kara said.

MCWD’s data show that Metro Cebu’s groundwater is already severely compromised due to unregulated extraction by private well owners, saltwater intrusion and nitrate contamination.

“The water district relies heavily on groundwater sources which comprises 70 percent of its daily supply, some 26 percent come from private bulk water suppliers and four percent is from its lone dam, the 107-year old Buhisan Dam,” Kara added.

Long-term solution

Kara said that MCWD’s long-term solutions include the development of the Mananga and Lusaran Dams and a seawater desalination plant and MCWD will also ask local government leaders in Metro Cebu for more areas for well sites as well as rainwater catchments and to replicate this program in several areas.

Another program is to explore the development of gabion dams in the Butuanon Watershed as suggested by Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes during a courtesy visit of MCWD officials recently.

Cortes said the water collected from the gabion dams will be a good addition to the 2,000 cubic meters per day of groundwater sources that MCWD will develop for the city and Cortes also suggested a site for a rainwater catchment.

Aside from the supply from the wells, Mandaue City will also receive additional volume once the Danao City Bulk Supply begins in 2020.  Kara said that MCWD and its private partners have wells in Mandaue City with a total production of 20,000 cu. m. per day but the water demand in the city is at 95,000 cu. m. per day as of 2019.

MCWD consumers in the city are benefitting from the water coming from the bulk supply in Carmen and MCWD Liloan and Consolacion wells, she added, “but aside from Mandaue City, the supply from the north is also being brought to Mactan island.”

Kara however explained that once MCWD’s plan secures the water demand in Mactan island through a seawater desalination plant will also mean that the mainland will no longer have to supply the needs of customers in Mactan island.

The water district also presented its pipeline expansion and rehabilitation projects for the city, its Septage Management Program and asked the city for its support.

Cortes, who just returned from an official trip to Japan, said the Japan International Cooperation Agency informed him of the delays of the Septage Treatment Plant project in Cebu City and said they hope it will now go on as scheduled.

As part of a P1-billion grant from the Japanese Government through JICA, the STP will serve the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Talisay and the municipalities of Consolacion, Liloan and Compstela.

MCWD and Danao City Government also met recently with Compostela officials to finalize delivery points for the final pipeline that needs to be installed before the supply flows by the first quarter of 2020.