Brace for El Niño

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Friday, May 16, 2014


THE heat nowadays is unbearable. Dams are drying up. Early this week, irrigation supply for Pampanga and Bulacan from the Angat Dam was cut-off. If the water level recedes further, water for domestic use might be rationed. While there are intermittent showers in the afternoon or evening, it is not enough to raise the dam’s water level. Pag-asa said it will take a month of heavy rains to fill it up. The sporadic rain only provided temporary reprieve from the hot weather.

The weather forecast is not pleasant. While rainy season is just a few weeks away, there might be an El Niño phenomenon soon. According to PAG-ASA’s media release last May 01, a majority of climate models indicate that El Niño may develop this year. The weather bureau is foreseeing the onset of El Niño in June which may peak during the last quarter of 2014 and may last up to the first quarter of 2015.

El Niño is bad news for everyone. For farmers it means lesser harvest. For us, possibly more expensive electricity since hydro-electric power plants cannot operate. Worst, there might be intermittent brownouts or no power at all. Bad news too for Metro Manila residents who rely on Angat Dam for their supply of potable water.

This early we should conserve water. At home, a large portion of the water we use is in the bathroom. You can save a lot of water by cutting down on your shower time and by putting a plastic bottle filled with sand or gravel in the toilet tank. The bottle will replace some of the water that your toilet uses each time it flushes.

We should also save electricity so that we can extend the operating time of our hydro plants. More importantly, let’s pray that El Niño will not happen at all.

--oOo--

To ease the pressure on Angat Dam, the government should consider exploring other sources of potable water. Our country is surrounded by seas so one option is the construction of desalination plants. Desalination is the process of removing dissolved salts from water, thus producing fresh water from seawater. In the Middle East, desalination plants provide almost all of their potable water supply. According to http://thewaterproject.org/, 70 percent of desalination plants are in this region.

Operation of desalination plants can be made environment-friendly. There is a plant in Australia which is powered entirely by wind power. New technologies are also being used to lessen disruptions to marine life during the intake and outfall processes.

The biggest setback is cost. There is a desalination plant in Cebu which according to news reports offers a price of P47 to P49 per cubic meter of water. That is way above the rates of most water districts. However, considering that a price of a bottle of mineral water is P10 to P20, that rate is still reasonable. When wells dry up, we may have no other choice.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on May 17, 2014.

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