NIA on Magat Dam water release: ‘There’s nothing else that could be done’

Published November 15, 2020, 1:21 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

The release of water on Magat Dam, one of the biggest dams in Asia, that contributed to the severe flooding in Cagayan has been announced, and that there’s nothing else the government could have done to stop it, an official at the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) said in a phone interview.

Wilfredo Gloria, NIA’s Department Manager for Magat River Irrigation System (MARIIS) Dam and Reservoir, said the release of water from Magat Dam is just a contributing factor to the widespread, unprecedented flooding in Cagayan.  

Magat Dam (NIA-MARIIS-DRD-Flood Forecasting and Warning System Dam Operation / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

He also said that NIA has followed all the protocols in terms of dam discharge and flood warning even days prior to the landfall of Typhoon Ulysses, the deadliest typhoon that hit the country so far for this year.

The MARIIS Dam and Reservoir was developed in 1985 to optimize the utilization of the water stored in the Magat reservoir, which is located in Magat river, the largest tributary of the Cagayan River.

The irrigation facilities, including the reservoir, the intake gates to the hydroelectric plant, and the dam itself, is owned and managed by the NIA.

“Nobody expected the flooding to be that severe, but it so happened that Ulysses was Luzon-wide. It brought rain to the entire region, in all its areas. So where will the water go if not in the Cagayan River? Since Typhoon Pepito, the typhoons have continuously arrived. The landmass has been saturated,” Gloria said.

“Magat is just one of the tributary rivers to the Cagayan River. There are 18 of them. How about those waters coming from other tributary rivers? It just so happened that Magat Dam is there, and it could no longer accommodate the water. The dam has a limit,” he added.  

Asked if there was something else NIA could have done to prevent the water discharge, Gloria said there was none, adding that “it’s a natural calamity”.

“We are not saying that we did not contribute [to the flooding]. We have contributed to the flooding, but it’s not solely because of the dam,” he further said.

According to him, as early as November 9, the Dam has already been pre-releasing water in preparation for Ulysses, and that different local and national government offices have been advised about this.

“We have issued warnings to different government offices,” Gloria said. “Through SMS, we have sent text messages on when and how much water will be released from the dam”.

He also said that while there has been an increase in the flow of water release in Magat Dam during the last few days, this was likewise announced and that there was no “last-minute emergency release” of water from the dam.

As of Saturday, Magat Dam’s water level remains near the 193-meter spilling level at 192.18 meters.

Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said widespread flooding may still persist in some areas in the province.

Meanwhile, Gloria said Magat Dam has not incurred apparent damage from the previous typhoons and its structures have remained intact.

“For every event, just like this, after the event and when the water has gone down, we will be conducting a thorough investigation. We will see to it that the structure integrity of the dam is at class A operational state,” he further said.