Revenge of the river – 2

By: Engr. Edgar Mana-ay

IN MY first article, this writer pointed out that it is the people of Metro Iloilo who suffered the most because of the molasses contamination fiasco of Jalaur River caused by the criminal act of a sugar central. This resulted in the cutting off of the 15,000-cubic meter per day (cmd) water supply of FLO Water to Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD).

This writer is NOT interested in the legal tussle between MIWD and FLO Water but will concentrate on the technical aspects of river supply and contamination since there are three other bulk water processing companies utilizing the rivers to supply potable water to Metro Iloilo.

These companies are Pilipinas Water Resources Inc. (PWRI) that is processing water from Aganan river in Balabag, Pavia for three big subdivisions in Pavia; Mactan Rock Inc. (MRI) taps Aganan River in Jibaoan, Sta. Barbara and injects processed water into MIWD line in San Jose, San Miguel; and Balibago Waters near the FLO Water Plant also uses Jalaur river water to supply some subdivisions in Jaro.

Amid the destruction of our watersheds, which is the primary source of river waters, river waters is still the ONLY reliable source for water utility companies to mass produce potable water for  supply of the community.

Based on the past 5 years of underground water exploration and actual water exploitation here in Iloilo that this writer had done, it is safe to conclude that it is NOT the underground water resource that we should look at for community water supply now and in the future. The average production or yield of deep wells (from 200 to 400 feet) in Iloilo ranges only from 300 cubic meters per day (cmd) up to 900 cmd.

The TRUE water demand in Metro Iloilo is about 200,000 cmd and more than 200 deep wells at maximum yield are needed to meet this! Therefore, all eyes are now on the rivers for our water supply. Also, the cost of water produced from rivers is certainly cheaper than that from very deep wells.

Therefore, the government, the business community and every citizens should preserve and protect rivers from abuse, overuse, and most especially from pollution. Since watersheds and rivers are the Siamese twins of water supply, healing one without working on the other is an exercise in futility.

We start with the watershed first, the area that provides the quantity and quality of water to our rivers. Until now, there is NO concerted and sustaining efforts on the part of the provincial government, and water utilities whose business depends on the quantity and quality of water the river provides, to actively participate in the rehabilitation and maintenance of the watersheds.

I am referring to the Governor, the concerned mayors of the within the watershed area, MIWD, PWRI, MRI, Manila Waters, Flowater, Balibago Water and other entities who are in the water business. I also include here PEDC, the coal-fired power plant company, that is required by DENR to have a reforestation program for its carbon sink mitigation. If all these entities have actively participated in the past, then the Maasin watershed and other watersheds would have been in a better shape now.

The newly elected Provincial Governor and the different Congressmen should jointly spearhead this priority project to rehabilitate all watersheds in the province through the PENRO and then the protections of all streams and rivers through the Municipal Mayors and the Menro. It is only through this endeavor that we can assure sufficient water supply for the present and future generations.

Then there is this recently completed P993.3-million Barotac Viejo Small Irrigation Project (SRIP) dam in Nueva Invencion, Barotac Nuevo and the ongoing construction of the P12.5 billion Jalaur River Multipurpose Project (JRMP II) whose utilization will depend on how the Province rehabilitates and maintains watersheds and rivers. This is therefore a gigantic challenge to the incoming newly elected officials.

Going back to the legal tussle between FLO Water and MIWD which resulted in the loss of 15,000 cmd of water to the already anemic supply of MIWD, this unfortunate event could have been avoided if both parties held the welfare of the public as their paramount goal.  As it is now, the consumers water shortage misery is further exacerbated. FLO Water claims that because of El Niño, river water is shallow and the flow is also slow, hence the principle of dispersion and spreading of pollutant is greatly diminished. Therefore, the criminal act of the sugar central formerly known as Passi Sugar Central in coloring the river with molasses falls under the force majeure eventuality. The bright boy of MIWD claims otherwise. He postulated that for the force majeure to apply, “dapat ang isa ka bagay indi mo gid ma-avoid and ma-prevent”

As I have mentioned in my previous column, bulk water processing plants are designed to take care only of NORMAL water discoloration. You don’t design a plant to take care of an event where a crack pot, criminal or terrorist individual or company pours ten drums of ink or dye into the river during El Niño say 5 kilometers upstream. That would make the plant very expensive which of course will charge MIWD with very expensive water. Since discoloration was minor, temporary and not harmful to human health, for the sake of the water starved consumers, that should have been a let go situation (in basketball lingo, it’s a “no harm, no foul situation”). The law kills, it is the spirit of the law that gives life!  Because according to Terence, “the strictest justice is sometimes the greatest injustice.”