Piñol calls for long-term measures to address water shortage

THE still looming water crisis in Metro Manila and the ongoing effects of El Niño prompted Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol to recommend dire measures to address the water shortage concerns.

But these measures are not just initiatives that require a lot of political will; they also require the help of the general public. These include instituting a national program to locate and protect the country’s headwaters and declaring them as protected areas; the building of water impounding facilities; and solar-powered irrigation systems.

Piñol warned of a major water crisis that can affect many key areas in the country if government does not act immediately. The agriculture chief said that protecting watersheds and mountain forests is crucial in maintaining the headwaters of major river systems. He also called for stricter enforcement of forest protection laws.

“Massive deforestation through the years have caused so much damage to our river systems,” Piñol said, stressing the need to move reforestation efforts to mountain areas and implement de-silting of major rivers to increase their water holding capacity.

Protection of headwaters

Surface water, from river systems, accounts for one of the major sources of water irrigation for farms in the country. Climate change and the demand for surface water for household use have made irrigation water for agricultural use even more difficult. And when surface water is hard to come by, ground water sources would take the heavy burden.

Irresponsible use of groundwater resources have led to a significant decline in the quality of ground water in the regions, particularly, in the whole of Central Luzon.

Central Luzon has at least 12-million-cubic-meters of potential water supply and the need for fresh water is at an all-time high, most especially for agricultural production. Central Luzon’s growing population of 11,218,177, as of 2015, means more demand for water and even more for agriculture.

Farming alone contributes greatly to groundwater extraction as Central Luzon is the country’s rice granary region. Rice production requires substantial amount of water for production.

It takes around 1,432 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of rice in an irrigated lowland production system. Water used for agricultural production accounts for 70 percent of the global water supply.

Data from the Philippines Environment Monitor (PEM) shows that by year 2025, water availability deficit would take place in several river basins such as in Pampanga which has a population of more than 2 million and is rapidly developing as an economic hub.

Seasonal variations like prolonged dry-spells, rising temperatures and high population are the major strains on groundwater sources.

Piñol believes that protecting headwaters of the country’s surface water sources will greatly improve access to water for irrigation and even household use.

The effort of re-greening watersheds and mountains, he said, would be a task that should be taken by government units and not just the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with the help of the private sector.

Climate smart initiatives

The agriculture secretary is also calling on the need to invest in the construction of more dams, not only for irrigation purposes but as reserve reservoir for water supply of urban areas during droughts.

“We are a country that has an abundance of water during the rainy season. The problem is, we do not have enough infrastructures to harvest this resource and save it for future use,” Piñol said, adding that such water could be used to irrigate farmlands and rice fields during prolonged dry spells.

Piñol added that out of 3.9 million rice farms, only 1.2 million are served by operational irrigation systems implemented by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA). In 2016, the NIA had only irrigated 10,000 hectares of rice areas.

The remaining 2.7 million hectares are rain-fed areas producing only once a year, Piñol added. With the country’s growth rate of 1.9 percent each year, more farms have to produce more food to feed the growing population. More production would require more water.

Farmlands without irrigation systems usually derive water from underground aquifers. Water is pumped out by diesel or gas engines using shallow tube wells. One hectare of land usually takes 12 to 16 hours to irrigate using this system.

This means that 32 liters of fuel (P1, 216) per irrigation cycle would be needed for one hectare. Fuel used for farm machineries and engines of irrigation systems contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) believes that small water impounding projects (SWIPs) addresses the unbalanced rainfall distribution during the summer months.

The SWIPs are more common in farm communities in Central Luzon, though their wider use have been practically slow and have yet to be implemented comprehensively in the region. SWIPs have been proven to be effective for crop production.

SWIPs are not new agricultural engineering interventions. The Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) of the Department of Agriculture have started such projects as early as the 1950s.

The best known are the eight SWIPs in Talugtog, Nueva Ecija which have been placed under different agricultural studies.

According to a study by Samuel Contreras, et. al, published in the International Soil and Water Conservation Research, SWIPs serve as rainwater harvesting facilities and storage structures consist of an earth embankment, spillway, outlet works and canal facilities.

Solar Irrigation

Piñol is also looking on the possibility of increased funding for alternative and sustainable small irrigation projects like the solar-powered irrigation so that rice farms, especially in Central Luzon, will not be dependent on the huge dams for water.

Earlier last year, DA has started its solar-powered irrigation projects in different areas of the country, harnessing both surface water sources and solar energy, and at the same time offsetting the use of harmful fossil fuels and the need to extract water from underground water sources.

The solar-powered systems utilize open water sources like lakes, rivers, streams and even creeks. Man-made small water impounding systems could also be used as water sources. Sucking water out of open water sources means less use of energy compared to underground water extraction. And less energy needed means even lesser operational cost.

The DA’s prototype for a solar-powered irrigation system has the capacity to pump an average volume of 1,000 cubic meters in the span of six to eight hours period. Enough to meet the water needs of a 10-hectare land during a single irrigation cycle.

Farmlands without irrigation systems usually derive water from underground aquifers. Water is pump out by diesel or gas engines using shallow tube wells. One hectare of land usually takes 12 to 16 hours to irrigate using this system. This means that 32 liters of fuel (P1, 216) per irrigation cycle would be needed for one hectare. Fuel used for farm machineries and engines of irrigation systems contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

But with the solar-powered irrigation system, the fuel cost is removed from the equation and valuable groundwater will no longer be extracted just for irrigation.

During summer months, farmers usually irrigate their farms every other day. With solar-powered irrigation, water could be accessed anytime during the dry months due to abundance of sunlight that powers the solar panels.

The system is perfect for most parts of the country with Type 1 climate, which is characterized by distinct wet and dry seasons. This means abundant rain during the monsoon season and plenty of sunlight in the summer months.

“It will also minimize the destruction of the environment and the construction of huge dams which happen in the development of huge irrigation systems, not to mention the long period of time needed to complete a huge irrigation system,” Piñol said.


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