We are well into this year’s summer season, the hot days of the year when temperatures rise, fields dry up, and some households in Metro Manila begin experiencing hours when there is no water coming out of their faucets.
But because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our worries are concentrated on the virus and the number of lives it has taken, the number of national economies it has sent crashing, and in our country the number of poor families that may not survive if the government does not move in to help with food packs.
But coronavirus or not, the annual water shortage is looming ahead of us because summer is here, the water in Angat Dam is steadily being depleted for lack of rain, and there are simply more people in Metro Manila today that can adequately be served with the water from Angat.
Angat provides 97 percent of Metro Manila’s water needs. From the dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan, water flows through three tunnels to Ipo Dam, also in Norzagaray, on to La Mesa Dam in Quezon City. This year, in the wake of that unfortunate time last year when swimming pools had to be drained to provide water for many households in eastern Metro Manila, President Duterte warned the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) against a repetition of that shortage.
To help solve the problem, MWSS undertook early this year a P7-billion Angat Water Transmission Improvement Project – construction of a new tunnel six kilometers long that will save as much as 200 million liters of water a day now being lost in the old tunnels.
But this is just a temporary solution, MWSS Administrator Emmanuel Salamat said. Metro Manila’s population has been steadily increasing over the years and the water from Angat will soon not be enough. There is already a new source – Wawa Dam in Rizal province – but its supply will not be enough for Metro Manila’s steady population increase.
President Duterte has already approved construction of a big Kaliwa Dam in Quezon province at a cost of P12 billion but it will be ready only in 2024. Between now and 2024, MWSS and the two water concessionaires, Manila Water and Maynilad, will have to turn to other smaller sources such as Laguna de Bay and deep wells.
But for now, we have an upgraded Angat Dam with its new tunnel. With prudent management of its distribution system, and the cooperation of Metro Manila’s water users, Angat should be able to supply Metro Manila’s most basic water needs this year.
The problem will worsen every year until Kaliwa Dam is built, unless some other additional sources are quickly developed. In the meantime, the best we can do is to call on the people of Metro Manila to be extra-conscious of the need to save water this summer. And to pray for a typhoon or two to come our way and raise Angat’s water level.