LOW rainfall and extreme heat have dried up wells and dams in Cebu, but not the three offshore spring wells in Barangay Calajoan, Minglanilla town.

Calajoan Barangay Captain Loreto Balorio, 56, recalled he was 10 years old when he first started fetching water from these wells. “Dies años pa ko mag-sinangay na ko’g tubig diha,” he said. By “sinangay”, he meant that he would carry a bamboo pole over his shoulders, with water containers hanging from both ends.

These three wells, some 50 meters from the shore, are fenced by a meter-high concrete culvert. These were once the community’s only sources of water for drinking, washing and laundry.

During high tide, the sea engulfs the wells. But when the tide is low, the wells become visible.

“Mag-atang ang mga tawo sa daplin kanus-a siya mogimaw. Bisan ing-ana lang, basta di na mosud ang dagat magsag-ob na sila (People line up at the beach to wait for the culvert to appear above the water, then they start fetching water),” said Balorio.

A taste of the water from the spring revealed it has no trace of saltiness or brackishness. Those who go to these offshore sources walk for some 100 meters starting from the barangay hall, passing through closely-built houses and shacks.

But residents fear that the spring water may cease to be fresh soon, as the town’s slaughterhouse and an outlet of the creek that collects wastewater from the town’s public market is just a few meters away.

Discovered by dogs

Adela Sellon, 77, recalled that in her younger days, she was told that the wells have been there since 1912.

“Kahoy pa na sa una ug diha mi mag-inom (It used to be covered by wood. We would drink there),” she said.

How were these wells discovered?

Barangay Captain Balorio said there were old-timers who observed that during low tide, the dogs would go to the area to play. After their antics, they would go to that spot for a drink.

When some residents saw this, they widened the hole and put wood structures around it, said Sellon’s niece Teresa Delima, 68.

Balorio said that when El Niño hit the country in 1982 to 1983 and caused a dry spell to stretch for seven months in Cebu, most of the wells near their houses dried up. But these offshore wells kept flowing.

There was also a time, he recalled, when families in Sitio Tabay suffered from diarrhea. He was around 15 then.

The government sent sanitation and health officers and took water samples from their wells, including the offshore springs.

“Kana ray kinalimpiyohan (That source of water was the cleanest),” Balorio said, pointing to the offshore wells.

Nowaways, residents no longer drink from the well. They just use the water for washing and bathing.

Change

“Lahi na sab karon kay medyo nahugawan na (It’s different now; not as clean as it used to be),” said Sellon.

The Minglanilla slaughterhouse lies just 100 meters from the springs. Sewage from the New Minglanilla Public Market flows through a creek that goes out to sea, through an outlet not far from these springs.

Balorio said complaints about these effluents already reached Minglanilla Mayor Lani Pena’s attention because he sent inspectors who recommended corrective measures.

“Ambot wa pa man gyud. Ingon man to nga ang ilang pond, kanang filter ba sa tubig gikan sa ihawan, buhatan nila. Naa sila’y gibuhat pero wala gyud kasulbad sa problema.

Kay mao man gihapon ang mogawas (We’re still waiting. They said they would build a pond where wastewater from the slaughterhouse can be treated. They’ve done something, but that doesn’t seem to have solved the problem. We still see the same results),” the barangay captain said.

Springs in stories

Balorio is worried that the natural waterways that feed these offshore wells will get contaminated.

Rosendo Hambre, a 51-year-old mason, said there was a time when the seawater around the culvert fence turned yellow. That forced him to get water elsewhere. These days,

he has resumed fetching water from these offshore wells.

A spring similar to that in Calajoan also exists in Barangay Tubigagmanok in Asturias town. The place reportedly derives its name from a story that it was a chicken that found the spring.

Springs like these are rare. And if these natural springs will not be taken care of, perhaps, soon we will just hear about them from stories of older folks, said Sellon.