Negros water crisis

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

Well, finally the issue of potable water has gone into the provincial level. Newly elected 3rddistrict Congressman Francisco Benitez took the initiative that has far-reaching impact in Occidental Negros. Bacolod’s water situation is already critical, but the board of Bacolod City Water District has spent over two years just discussing the several proposals and not making up its mind. In the meantime, thousands of families in this claimed model city of the Philippines are without good, tap water. At the rate Baciwa is moving, there is no solution in sight. Maybe the price is not yet right.

According to Cong. Benitez, there is an “urgent need” to come up with a “water security map”, not just in his district but the entire province. He considered the situation as “serious” and there are people whose water supply are decreasing although there appears to be an excess of supply.

He added there is a need to be forward-thinking and that water should not be the deciding factor that would limit the development of the province. How true but only until now did someone at the top of the political pole took the issue into the public consciousness, at least at the provincial level.

We had always assumed, and with good reasons, that we have enough supply of water on this island. For indeed we see water flowing freely into the ocean, untapped and even dirty because we did not consider the possible decline of water resources. Our forests have been replenished, thanks mainly to the vigilance of our forest rangers and the firm resolve of our provincial government to keep and even expand our forest reserves.

Now that the province is looking at this subject, there is a need, as articulated in the meeting of concerned officials and agencies, to focus on the demand of our expanding population, to establish mechanisms to manage this vital human resource and to ensure that not a drop is wasted. As of now, we take water for granted, except of course in Bacolod where the water district and city officials cannot make up their minds. There are too many factors converging on the choice of who should get the giant share of the multi-million water business.

Every town in this island has a river, some more than one and several creeks, all flowing with water that remains untapped. We have no public water management system because we depend on the National Water Resources Board to ensure regulation and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that have so many functions and responsibilities but lacking in personnel to plan and execute. Their local counterparts are likewise in a tight jacket.

It is said that the next war will not just be territory but water rights. In fact, over a decade ago the United States and Canada had falling out due to water concerns. In the Mekong, the deltas along the several countries dependent on this huge river are also at odds.

Among the issues tackled in the recent provincial summit were water demand and resource management to support economic growth, social welfare and ecological balance.

Juliana Carbon, Bacolod City Water District general manager, said Bacolod City needs an additional 40 to 60 million liters of water a day to meet its growing demand. She pointed out the “fast-paced development” of Bacolod and the demand for Baciwa for water. She cited the Megaworld entry into Bacolod. This large business, residential and commercial giant that is rising at the former Bacolod Murcia Milling Company will require a lot of water.

In fact, in the press conference that Megaworld convened two years ago, I raised this problem and the company said it is coordinating with Baciwa. How the water district will meet the need of Megaworld is everybody’s guess. But perhaps the company has already entered into agreements with Baciwa. Maybe Carbon’s estimate already includes Megaworld’s need.

Whatever, the entry of Megaworld and other large buildings in the city, aside from the expanding population will be a huge challenge to the water district. In fact, I think that not only Prime Water and Manila Water that has also sent its intention to come into Bacolod but other water providers should be accommodated. The requirement of Bacolod is huge. There is room for others.

Let’s continue next week.