AN ENVIRONMENT group lobbying for the protection of Davao's watersheds remained noncommittal on the plan of Davao City Water District (DCWD) and Apo Aqua Infrastructural Inc. (AAII) to ask for an exemption from the Watershed Code provision, which prohibits infrastructure development in the Panigan-Tamugan Watershed.

Tamugan River will be tapped to produce the bulk water supply. The P10-billion project is a joint venture between the DCWD and AAII to provide adequate water supply to Davao City.

Interface Development Interventions (Idis) coordinator and Watershed Management Council (WMC) member, Chinkie Pelino, said they recognize the need to produce more potable water, but there are legitimate concerns on the potential negative impact of the project to local biodiversity and the communities living near the rivers.

The project is being developed by AAII, a joint venture company of Aboitiz Equities and JV Angeles Constructions Corporation.

Under the partnership, AAII will develop a facility capable of tapping three million liters of surface water daily from the Panigan-Tamugan to supply Davao's water needs using the DCWD's existing distribution network.

According to Pelino, there is still a need to carefully study their plans.

"They have to present it to WMC since it is the policy making and implementation body of the Watershed Code, which will then review the Memorandum of Agreement and technical plan to check if the appropriate mitigation measures are present," she said.

Pelino said under the Watershed Code, the WMC must first provide the recommendation or issue a clearance before any undertaking or exemption under the Code may be approved.

Article 13 of the WSC states that the WMC will "issue clearance to all forms of undertakings in the conservation, agro-forestry/agricultural non-tillage areas declared as Environmentally Critical Areas on the basis of the recommendation of the Watershed Multipartite Monitoring Team and the Barangay Watershed Management Council."

Idis executive director Ann Fuertes also said that while the project may be able to address the future water needs of the city, there is also a concern that this project may be a step toward water privatization, which may mean increased consumer costs for the public.

"This project could make water provision more efficient but then could also bypass poor communities or worsen inequities in water distribution," Fuertes said, as she mentioned Iloilo City that experienced problems with its water supply when its water utility was unable to pay its local water bulk supplier.

But in several statements, DCWD assured the public that this will not mean an increase in the monthly water bill payments. DCWD spokesperson, lawyer Bernard Delima, earlier said that it will continue to be affordable for consumers.

Idis urged the proponents to present the project details to the WMC, since the City Council will also ask for the WMC's official position on the matter before acting on their request for exemption.

"In the interests of transparency and good governance, AAII and DCWD should present the specifics of their Memorandum of Agreement and the project plan so that the WMC will have the opportunity to review it carefully before issuing its position on the matter," Fuertes said. (ICT)