AS the sun keeps rising and noon approaches, three boys jump and swim in the Butuanon River in Mandaue City. They ignore its stench and the dark color of its water as they swim toward the Butuanon Bridge and climb up the slope of a riverbank, to where a pipe produces clear water.
Avelino Amores, 73, has seen this before. It’s something different children have done for years, something he and his friends also did when he was younger.
The only difference is that children used to swim in clear water and drank fresh water from a spring near the Butuanon.
Amores, who lives in Zone Monggos in Barangay Paknaan, points to the same spot where the three boys are swimming and the same spring on the river’s bank.
“Kwaresma mahubsan man ang ubang tinubdan, kana di gyud mahubsan (During Holy Week when heat was extreme, other sources of water in Mandaue dried up, but that spring has never run out of water),” says Amores.
The spring belongs to Barangay Ibabao-Estancia. Amores’s family lives on the boundary of Paknaan and Ibabao-Estancia, the two barangays the Butuanon River divides.
Six natural springs have been found along the Butuanon River, located in different barangays.
Architect Araceli Barlam, chief of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro), has said that these are located in Barangays Alang-alang, Tabok, and Ibabao-Estancia. These springs flow toward the Butuanon River.
Full of (other) life
Barlam says she learned about the springs this year through some residents.
Of the six springs, one serves as a source of water for washing clothes and taking baths in Sitio Pulang Bukid, Alang-alang.
Authorities have recommended against using the other five because of bad bacteria.
“We asked MCWD (Metropolitan Cebu Water District) to test (water) samples from the springs, unya puno sya hugaw (but they found out that the five springs were contaminated),” says Barlam.
Cenro has stated that the 62 establishments along Butuanon River are the main reasons the river is polluted.
But long before the establishments were constructed along Butuanon River, Amores recalls, the spring in Ibabao Estancia, particularly the one near Butuanon Bridge, was their source of water for drinking, washing clothes, cooking, and bathing.
“Makalaba ug makainom mi. Diha naundang lang kay pag-construct sa karsada (We got our water from the spring. We lost the water source when the United Nations Ave. was constructed),” he says, referring to the road that now leads to the Marcelo Fernan Bridge.
“Pero katong tubiga makatabang gyud unta (That source of water could really have helped us),” says Amores.
Since the spring was their only source of water before, Anita Itang, 57, says they put in a pipe where the water can flow out. Itang’s mother served as the spring’s caretaker.
Itang used it until she turned 23, when the road began to be built and the occupants were told to move from the riverbank in Ibabao-Estancia. Itang’s family has transferred across the Butuanon River and is now living in Zone Monggos.
Soil was dumped over the spring when they were told to leave, she says. Since then, the spring was no longer used.
“Nindot unta’g naa pa to kay maminusan ang among gasto sa tubig (It would be great if we still had access to the spring; it would really have helped decrease our water bills),” she says.
For their part, Cenro personnel are tagging the areas where springs have been found.
Barlam says they are doing this so if there is a plan to put a riprap or walls along the Butuanon River, the flow of the springs would not be blocked.
Dreams of rescue
Ibabao-Estancia Barangay Captain Jesus Barz has said there are two springs in his barangay, on the banks of Butuanon River. He plans to talk with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on what they can do to preserve the springs.
“Kung pananglitan kusog tuboda ato silbing i-develop unya buhatan ug tanke nga magamit nato sa mga tawo kay sayang man. Magamit nato kung kinsa’y nagkinahanglan ug tubig (If the spring stills produces enough water, we can develop it, put up a water tank and share the water with the people who need it),” says Barz.
Since there will be developments along Butuanon River, just like building a park on the riverbank, Barz thinks that the springs can be used as source of water for the park.
Although the spring in Pulang Bukid can be used for washing and bathing, Cenro is not recommending it for drinking. There are two springs in Pulang Bukid where residents have constructed wells so they can fetch water more easily.
The first well, which was constructed in 1992, is still being used by the residents.
But Mela Blanza, 55, says the second well, which was constructed around the year 2000, is no longer used after severe flooding about two years ago covered it with mud.
After that, Blanza availed herself of a water connection from the Metropolitan Cebu Water District.
One more to save
She says they initially learned there was a spring in the area when they saw clear water running from the soil where a bamboo tree stands. Blanza says the second well, which is located on the slope of the riverbank, was the source of water for some nearby residents for 20 years.
They no longer fetch water from the first well because it is already inside the lot of a neighbor, where a house has been constructed.
“Pero kana siya kung naa’y mokubkob diha motubod pa gyud na sya (If someone will dig in the area of the deep well, natural water will still flow),” she says.
As the City Government prepares to host the 4th International River Summit next year, there are now two bodies of water that have to be saved in Mandaue. For parched or poor residents, the six springs represent their hope of a better life.
After 20 years, what has the Butuanon River Watershed Management Board achieved? Read Saving Butuanon, an award-winning 3-part special report published in October 2016 in SunStar Cebu.