Are all of us to blame for water shortage?

March 14, 2019

There’s no doubt that water is most precious. Without it, one can die in days. And a severe shortage in water supply to do basic household chores can really disrupt lives. Or even drive people crazy and become hot-tempered.

It certainly is no joke when faucets remain dry for up to 20 hours a day just like what’s been happening in many areas in the eastern part of Metro Manila and Rizal province. And there are even reports that many households have been waterless for days on end, and even for about a week in some homes.

What infuriates many of the customers of Manila Water, the Ayala-led water utility firm, is that the onslaught of the water crisis came without warning. It was virtually an unpleasant surprise that caught many off guard. TV news showed interviews of furious consumers who said they could have been more prepared for the water shortage had there been advance warning.

Also, Manila Water is being accused of not being forthright about its unannounced service interruptions. A statement it issued on Tuesday said it was compelled “to severely reduce water distribution in view of the low water level at La Mesa Dam, which in turn was caused by the dry spell brought about by the El Niño phenomenon.”

But the Manila Water statement is “puzzling” to Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System Administrator Reynaldo Velasco who told CNN Philippines that the La Mesa Dam is supposed to be a reserve source, and that water is supposed to be drawn from the Angat Dam which has not yet reached its critical level.

And what many find disappointing about Manila Water is its failure to sound the alarm even as early as December last year when the rains have stopped and El Niño had kicked in. It ought to have warned the public of a looming crisis and pushed for an aggressive campaign on water conservation measures among its millions of customers.

But it’s not only Manila Water to blame for the water shortage. Government, left-leaning groups, Church-based groups, and even consumers who don’t conserve or recycle water are also to blame, according to MWSS chief regulator Patrick Ty who was interviewed by Karen Davila on ANC’s Headstart yesterday.

He lamented the water crisis “will get worse before it gets better" as short-term and medium-term solutions are still being worked out by government and water distributors. Ty said that the population in the east zone handled by Manila Water has grown "exponentially" during the two decades since water services were split between Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services.

Manila Water customers need 1,750 million liters of water per day (mld), when the company’s water share from Angat Dam is at 1,600 mld under a 60-40 sharing agreement with Maynilad in 1997, Ty said.

He explained that while government officials anticipated growing demand mainly due to increase in population, plans to build new water dams have been set back due to stiff opposition from various groups, particularly the leftist organizations which said indigenous peoples would lose ancestral lands with the construction of the new dams.

The planned New Centennial Water Source Project (NCWSP) is an integrated dam system involving the construction of the Laiban Dam, conceived during the Marcos era, at the Kaliwa River in Rizal province, and a smaller dam downstream (Kaliwa Dam) in Quezon province.

The Laiban infrastructure project was supposed to be implemented by the Arroyo administration and funded by China — a proposal that fell through after Chinese loans were put on hold amid the ZTE-National Broadband Network scandal. But construction of the China-funded Kaliwa Dam is now expected to go full blast under the Duterte administration and might be finished by 2023.