Creeks and Rivers as Climate Change Indicator

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By Art Tibaldo

Consumer Atbp.

Monday, July 14, 2014


I HAVE practically lived next or close to a river since my childhood. I fetched and drank water from it, took a bath and ate food like taro, crabs, edible snails, frogs, fish and eels from it. I considered myself lucky to have experienced what most children today are deprived of. It was like a fountain of youth in a river of life to put it dramatically.

There was a time when I slipped, fell and almost drowned in a fast flowing body of water and there was a moment of my boyhood when I sleep-walked and jumped twelve feet below the creek beside our house while dreaming as a super hero. There were regrettable as well as intimate moments that happened with me in my numerous encounters with a body of water and there were activities I did along river banks that contributed to what I am today. My independent film about the life of pocket miners sieving and assaying gold along the Bued River below the Kennon Road view deck won me second best during a film fest in the mid 80s and I got a scar on my left arm when I did another indie film that required me to fall from the hanging bridge of Asin Hot Springs.

Now that my knees are showing signs of abuse implying that I can no longer hike the trails that I trekked and climb the rock formations that I used to explore, it is quite nostalgic to recall that there were times when I swam in natural waters with a stick to ward off snakes that abound in my mother’s home town farm. I regretted the time when I killed snakes when I stayed in our farm in the lowlands as I was unsure whether the reptiles were venomous and bite from behind. I knew that the venomous cobras thrive in the lowlands but I saw one in Green Valley before Y2K that made me conclude that such is an indicator that the climate is fast changing.

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Lately, I learned that the water from the spring where I used to swim has been siphoned through PVC pipes and distributed to farmlands and residences downstream. My brother Mario inherited the farm endowed with a spring and it’s good that he decided to plant beetle nut trees along its embankment.

Having attended many environmental programs like the Cordillera Multi-Sectoral Forest Protection Committee (CMSFPC), Forest Sector Project (FSP) of DENR, Baguio Regreening Movement (BRM), Maximo Kalaw & Haribon Foundation and other post Marcos environmental management programs, I noted that the usual focus of most discussions was the need to sustain forests from where clean water comes from.

As early as 1996, the Water Environment Partnership in Asia reported that the country’s rivers only have 51% of the classified rivers that met the standards for their most beneficial use. The rest according to WEPA were polluted from domestic, industrial and agricultural sources.

When Republic Act 9275 or The Philippine Clean Water Act was enacted in 2004, most studies point to the fact that domestic wastewater is the principal cause of organic pollution at 48% of our water bodies. Yet, only 3 percent of investments in water supply and sanitation were going to sanitation and sewage treatment. This case is true if not worse for Baguio even if this upland city has its sewerage treatment plant. I may be lucky to have my wastewater connected to the culverts leading to the plant but I guess as much as 85 percent of the total Baguio residents are not connected at all to the plant which was build in 1984 or 85.

A World Bank report pointed out before that Metro Manila was second to the lowest in sewer connections among major cities in Asia and that it is lesser at 7 percent compared to 20 percent for Katmandu, Nepal and 30 percent for Dhaka and Bangladesh. The WB noted that 31 percent of all illnesses in the country were attributed to polluted waters and in order to ensure access to clean water for all Filipinos, the government must enact a Philippine Clean Water Act with a comprehensive strategy to protect water quality.

Over the weekend, I drove up to Quirino Hill to take a long shot image of the city’s central business district and compare Baguio today with my photos taken back in the early 80s. The former Carabao Mountain is now honeycombed with houses from the top to the slopes of Quirino Hill so that when rain drops on roofs, roads and gutters, the force of gravity creates a huge mudflow along the Magsayay Road below it carrying the accumulated wastes and silts from the hill. The perennial flooding of the City Camp lagoon from the 70s to the 90s is the result of water run-off because very little is absorbed by the exposed earth in the neighborhood. In 1995, there was a dredging and tunnel-widening project below the lagoon and Rock Quarry to allow a wider drainage for the rain water that flows to this sunken area. We got the nod from the engineer in charge to shoot video inside and document the tunnel’s widening and we saw a circuit of natural tunnels never seen before by Baguio residents. The sight inside180 to 200 feet below reminds me of the caves of Sagada with stalactites and stalagmites with the continuous dripping of water except for the old tires, broken furniture and plastic wastes clogging the inlets and crevices. A bountiful and progressive Cordillera to one and all!

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on July 15, 2014.

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