By: Engr. Edgar Mana-ay

In this part of our series on the water crisis, we will further discuss surface water, which accounts for 90 percent of the source of all water utilities (MIWD, Pilipinas Water, Mactan Rock, Balibago waters and Flowater/Prime Water) supplying Metro Iloilo. For the entire Iloilo city and province, supply shortage for drinking water from surface water source is a big problem.

But first, let’s digress towards another form of surface water for irrigation use: the P993.3-million Barotac Viejo Small Reservoir Irrigation Project (SRIP) located at Brgy. Nueva Invencion, Barotac Viejo.

The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) inaugurated this surface water source last April 16, 2019. NIA boasted in its press release that this earth fill dam has a storage capacity of 11.08 million cubic meters of water and can irrigate 2,050 hectares. The press release claims that the water will come from the Barotac Viejo River. There was NO MENTION of the watershed source, its area, and condition which is suppose to feed Barotac Viejo river all year round in order to supply the water for the SRIP Dam.

According to my sources, the catchment or watershed area that feeds the Barotac Viejo river is about 51 sq. km. only in area and 90 percent is located in Barotac Viejo with 10 percent part of the Municipality of Ajuy. In contrast, Tigum and Aganan watershed has a total area of 332 square km. and yet the water depth at both rivers NOW is barely 3 inches! Right now, it would be an educated guess that water depth at Barotac Viejo river is barely 2 inches!

But what is most disturbing is the press release of NIA-6 Regional Manager Engr. Gerardo P. Corsiga saying: “The reservoir needs at least six to eight months for it to be filled with water.” Sir Manager, if this six-month period is during rainy season, which I surmise it is, then this Barotac Viejo SRIP will be useless for at least 6 months annually. They then described the dam as a close and open operation! More close than open? You owe it to the public to clarify the water supply situation for the SRIP Dam. It’s just like buying the horse first but the cart is not available, by the time the cart arrives, the horse is already dead!

What should have been done 20 years ago is to heal and develop the watershed FIRST. If after 20 years of healing and rehabilitation of the watershed is successful (which this writer does not believe it will be), then the Small Reservoir Irrigation Project (SRIP) can be planned and worked on for another 5 years. Rehab and healing of the watershed or catchment area could have been financed by JICA if a proper and convincing project study and proposal was submitted to them jointly by DENR and NIA. If JICA had studied the project, it would have done so from a very technical perspective devoid of personal and political agenda and it would have the same recommendation as this writer to START WITH THE REHAB OF THE WATERSHED FIRST.

The political agenda I am referring to is the corn industry in Northern Iloilo from which many voters and big-time politicians depend on for livelihood, hence a deterrent to the healing of the watershed. As we all know, private companies such as San Miguel and Vitarich are engaged in marketing of animal feeds and are financing farmers in the area to plant corn for their feed mill supply. Trees are cut even on hills and mountain sides for corn planting and this is a big challenge for the local government to put a stop in order to preserve the watershed. While it is quite too late, there is no other recourse but for the Local Government Units to have the political will to prevent/stop corn planting on hilly and mountainous areas of the watershed/catchment area and restore the trees and vegetative cover. As a compromise, it can tolerate rice and corn paddies in the PLAIN because it is very efficient in catching and holding rainfall with minimal runoff  for storage underground but not agriculture activities in the hills and mountains side. With no sufficient water to feed the river, the SRIP Dam will just be another white elephant addition to the many palpak big-ticket government projects.

If the SRIP Dam in Barotac Viejo have sufficient water all year round, it can even have an allied project of a bulk water processing plant like that of Flowater and MIWD to produce the potable water requirements of nearby Municipalities such as Banate, Ajuy, Anilao and Sara. But alas it can’t even serve the expected irrigation water demand for which it was designed to! NIA is even boasting of an allied fish culture project which is a very wild imagination!

We go back to Metro Iloilo that also suffers from insufficient surface water supply to various private bulk water processing plants mentioned above. What must be done in order to increase surface water supply especially during dry season? It will be another kilometric discussion but as a summary, the following will have to be done:

  • Declare Maasin mountain watershed as off limits to human activities so that in 10 years time, water flow in the Tigum and Aganan rivers will double during summer;
  • develop Suague river in Janiuay as an additional surface water source since its mountain watershed source is relatively intact and well preserved and finally source out water from Guimaras (there’s a lot of shallow underground water under the limestone mountain range) via under sea pipe line towards Iloilo City.

Note: The author is a professional member of the National Ground Water Association of the US.