Revenge of the river

By: Engr. Edgar Mana-ay

IN THE PLAY “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare, there is a character named Shylock who said: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”  This is exactly what happened to the Jalaur River molasses mess caused by the despicable, unforgiveable, illegal and immoral act of a sugar central in San Enrique, Iloilo for polluting the river with molasses laden sewage discharges.

As a backgrounder, about two weeks ago this sugar central in San Enrique wantonly and illegally discharged molasses laden liquid waste into a creek which eventually empties at the mighty Jalaur River, the source of water being processed for the potable water supply of Metro Iloilo. Any expert on water processing knows that bulk water processing plant is designed to remove very MINOR water discoloration by passing the water supply through a bed of pulverized COAL OR CHARCOAL MADE OF COCONUT SHELL. BUT a sudden surge of a VERY discolored river water supply due to the molasses laden discharge is beyond the cleaning power of a normal plant set up.

A plant cannot react immediately when there is an abnormal surge of discolored water supply because it will take weeks or even months to set up the additional filtering system to absorb the sudden surge of a very discolored river water (chemical and not mud discoloring which is easy to remove). Such unnecessary investment in the normal business ventures is not made just to prepare for somebody reckless and crazy to crop up and discolor the entire river water. What should be practiced by bulk water processing plants is the INSTALLATION OF A RIVER BED BURIED SUCTION system. As of now, ALL plants practices the OPEN WATER SUCTION, meaning it sucks directly the running river water into their plant for processing which is psychologically dirty considering the despicable environmental habits of our people. A buried river bed suction makes use of natural sand filtration so that even color pollution accidents can be partially cured without overloading the cleaning capacity of the plant.

While a slightly discolored drinking water does not have ill effects on the human health (it’s just psychological), still it is a must that potable water passes the color standard of both Department of Health (DOH) and World Health Organization (WHO) which is 15 TCU (true color unit). Of course the discoloration episode was NOT the fault of FLO Water but as usual, MIWD is always so legalistic, a mask it always uses to cover its inefficiencies for the past 40 years, that it imposed a hefty penalty to FLO Water of more than a million pesos. Kay wala man siya sala, natural ang mal-am nagsunggod, and FLO Water stopped its 15,000 cubic meters per day (cmd) supply with MIWD.

Again, MIWD has trivialized the importance of the lost 15,000 cmd. Half of Metro Iloilo is already water starved and 15,000 cmd constitute about 20 percent of its very anemic and meager supply and yet in its press conference, MIWD’s poker faced officials conveyed the message that “oh we can manage without the 15,000 cmd”. This writer will not castigate MIWD anymore, because it has always been callous and insensitive to public appeal for more water.

What is equally important is to instill a message to our people especially the commercial and industrial establishments like Passi Sugar Central to take care of our streams and rivers so that it is free from pollution. We have to look at our rivers and streams as a human being. Just like the baggage man at the pier or the cargador at the public market, the river carries the load, both sediments and water from the mountains and the population centers towards the sea. A businessman can force its cargador to carry two sacks of rice which the cargador will meekly follow but will throw it during unloading causing the sacks to burst. Just like a human being, a river reacts to overloads and pollutant given him and will exact a revenge to the people influenced by the river including the bulk water processing plants constructed along its banks.

Within reasonable limits, a river can adjust its width, depth and meander if there is an increase of water and sediment load but NEVER to pollution. If imposed with a load beyond its equilibrium capacity and its physical landscape erroneously revised by man in the name of progress (as in the JICA-backed STRAIGHT floodway), the river fights back and exacts its revenge by destroying its banks and flooding the plains. Like a growing child, we have to “baby” the river. We have to use a soft approach in controlling, restoring and maintaining rivers and streams AT GRADE.

The molasses waste river contamination should NOT be ignored by our authorities. Look at the indirect effect on the already meager water supply of Metro Iloilo. Heads should roll for those responsible for the fiasco; this includes the executives of Passi Sugar Central, the Mayor of San Enrique for command responsibility and ALL the DENR personnel who have not prevented the tragedy.