THE VIEW FROM RIZAL
By DR. JUN YNARES
“It has been raining lately. How come there are still areas with no reliable water supply?”
I heard this question asked by many recently, including broadcast commentators, concerned citizens, and others. They seem to entertain the notion that the afternoon thunderstorms in several parts of the metropolis and Luzon are the answer to prayers for an end to the summer ordeal which began in March this year.
The question is valid. After all, aren’t the rainwaters supposed to fill our dams? Aren’t the rains supposed to end the drought and restore the water supply service to the same level in which that service was enjoyed before faucets ran dry?
Or, are we now experiencing what may be called a “wake-up call”? Is this situation where there are rains but water is still in short supply supposed to make us rethink or even junk that notion that things will go back to the way it has always been? Should we finally embrace the truth that – at least at this point – water security is a myth?
And, since it is possible that we can no longer expect water supply to return to the same level as before the March incident, is this time as good as any to start seriously studying and implementing strict water conservation measures?
There are sound bases for this viewpoint.
First, we have already been told by meteorological experts that the country has already incurred a “typhoon deficit.” This means we have not been visited by the number of rain-carrying typhoons necessary to have our dams filled. Last we heard, Angat and La Mesa dams are still at critical levels. The late-afternoon thunderstorms may not be expected to bring them back to normal levels.
Second, the metropolis is still relying on Angat dam for its water supply. That has been the case since the time when there were less than 50 million Filipinos and there were less than one million residents of Manila. Nothing much has changed as far as water sources are concerned. Population has increased in geometric proportions since then.
The news that Manila Water is now ready to compensate those who have been inconvenienced by the water supply interruption is welcome news. It is good to know that Filipino conglomerates continue to adhere to the highest standards of social responsibility. However, we are aware that the rebates have nothing to do with ensuring the security of our water supply.
Water security is not in the hands of private sector businesses. No matter how hard we bash the Ayala and Metro Pacific groups for what happened, water security cannot be attained.
The fact remains that future water security will depend on the willingness of, and the speed with which the national government can develop new water sources. That’s it: the answer is in new water sources. Looking for and tapping new water sources is the key. The government holds that key.
What we do know is that the government has already identified new water sources for the thirsty metropolis.
It is interesting that all four possible new water sources are located inside or on the borders of Rizal province. Last we heard, these possible new water sources are Wawa Dam in Rodriguez, Rizal, Kaliwa Dam in the boundary of Rizal and Quezon Provinces, a supposed Sierra Madre water supply project, and a new water source project called “East Bay.”
There are talks that the first two – the Wawa and Kaliwa projects – are still mired in legal obstacles and controversies. It may take time before these take off the ground. It will take five years or more before the government gets water flowing from these sources to the faucets or metropolitan residents and industries.
We asked around and learned that no one knows much about the Sierra Madre water supply project.
Fourth in the priority of national government is the East Bay project. This involves drawing water from the eastern part of Laguna de Bay – the portion close to the lakeshore towns of Angono, Cardona, Pililla, and Tanay. This is good water. There are no water-polluting industries located in that coastal area. There are only artists, composers, and cottage industry entrepreneurs living there.
Why the government has not considered making that the first priority baffles many. After all, that project is not facing legal dispute or local community opposition. Rizal province is already drawing water from a portion of that area through the Cardona water project.
There is a belief that Filipinos are difficult to convince that there is a possible real water shortage. How can that be, he asks, when the country bathes in torrential rains every year, oftentimes resulting in floods.
The fact is bringing water to homes and businesses requires a system and a complex process. Water has to be collected in large containers called dams and reservoirs. Then, the water has to be filtered and treated to make it safe for home and industrial use. Then it has to be channeled in a complex system of pipes to residences and industries.
Unless the heavy volume of rainwater is collected and stored, it cannot be efficiently and systematically brought to our homes.
It is the government’s duty to develop those big containers where rainwater can be collected and stored. We are still using the ones developed before most of our readers were born.
Unless we get new ones, we may have to consider collecting and storing water in our pails and pans.
Time to conserve water. Seriously.
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