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As I See It

There is plenty of water behind Wawa Dam

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Here we go again. Every summer, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) warns of a water shortage and an impending water rationing.

Isn’t it ironic and strange that every rainy season we have too much water—too much, in fact, that the resulting floods drown hundreds of people—but in summer, only a few months later, there is too little. What happened to all that water that swamped that country only a few months earlier?

The MWSS is at it again. It has warned that the water level in the Angat Dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan, which supplies water to Metro Manila’s 10 million residents, has receded closer to its minimum operating level of 180 meters above sea level (masl). Last Wednesday, the MWSS said, the water level has dropped to 187.03 masl. Below 180 masl, the dam’s hydroelectric power plant can no longer generate power and the National Irrigation Administration would have to stop supplying water to

Bulacan and Pampanga rice farms. The priority, MWSS said, is to supply the domestic water needs of Metro Manila.

The National Power Corp. has already reduced the discharge of potable water from 46 cubic meters per second (cms) to 41 cms to conserve water. It has also reduced irrigation water to farmlands. Should the water level go down to 180 masl, irrigation water supply would be totally stopped and the dam’s hydroelectric power plant would limit its power supply to only 15 megawatts.

What this means is that the already thin supply of electricity in the Luzon grid would be further reduced and may result in brownouts. It also means that the rice plants already growing in the fields would be deprived of irrigation water which could result in either reduced yields or rice crops being totally lost.

The government will be resorting to cloud seeding operations to induce rain in the Angat watershed. But that is effective only if there are clouds to seed. Without clouds, no amount of seeding can induce rain to fall.

The perplexing thing is that the MWSS has a ready source of additional water supply behind the Wawa Dam in Antipolo. This dam used to be the main source of water for Metro Manila before the Angat Dam was built. When Angat was completed, Wawa was abandoned, and the pipes leading from the dam to the La Mesa reservoir were stolen.

Every summer when there is the perennial water shortage, Wawa’s stored water merely flows over the dam, down the Marikina River to Manila Bay where it is wasted.

All that the MWSS has to do is put new pipes from Wawa Dam to La Mesa reservoir and Metro Manila will have enough water even during the hottest summer.

A private company, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Builders, has offered to put the pipes from Wawa to La Mesa at its own expense, no cost to the MWSS or to the government. But for some strange reason, the MWSS refuses to allow it to do that. The MWSS refuses to say why. It just pretends that the Wawa Dam does not exist. And every year, millions of cubic meters of water are wasted.

A possible explanation is that the two water concessionaires, Maynilad and Manila Water, also want to tap Wawa. However, there is a law that says whoever makes the first offer to develop a water source should get the contract, and San Lorenzo Ruiz Builders was first. In other words, Maynilad and Manila Water cannot steal the project from San Lorenzo Ruiz Builders.

So what the MWSS is probably doing is to dribble the ball until San Lorenzo Ruiz Builders loses interest and the project can then be awarded to its favorite water concessionaires.

But there is another law that prohibits water distributors from developing water sources in the same way that power distributors are barred by law from generating electricity. That is to prevent a monopoly of such valuable commodities as water and electricity. And it does not look like San Lorenzo Ruiz Builders is losing interest.

And so the MWSS just sits on its a– and does nothing until a way can be found around the laws to favor the concessionaires.

Every summer, when the water supply runs short, I harp on this paradox like a broken record, but there is no explanation from the MWSS for its strange actions.

Is it because the MWSS has no money? But it is spending P2.6 million for just one cloud seeding operation. And every year, it gives its officials and employees million-peso bonuses. MWSS officials and employees have one type of bonus or another every month. And anyway, more water to consumers will mean more money for MWSS. So why oh why? What is the mystery?

And San Lorenzo Ruiz Builders is going to spend its own money. The MWSS can have enough water for its consumers and still have its beloved bonuses. So what can be the possible explanation? I would like to hear one, but so far there is none. The MWSS just keeps quiet and pretends there is no problem. Maybe President Aquino should step in and ask them why. This paradox—a water shortage in the midst of plenty—is making a laughingstock of his administration.

* * *

There will be no Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel today. The forum will be resumed next Monday, April 28.


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