THE water level of Lake Lanao is just seven centimeters above the critical level that will force the hydroelectric power plants tapping energy from it to shut down.

This is the first time the lake's level has dipped so low very early in the year, and thus, people will have to expect the power shortage will worsen as the summer season enters and makes the already dry season even drier.

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The hydroelectric power tapped from Lake Lanao generates 70 percent of Mindanao's power supply.

Sources from National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) said Lake Lanao's water level is now at 699.08 meters, based on the latest monitoring at 6 a.m. Sunday. Critical level of the lake is pegged at 699.15 meters.

Edgardo Calabio, regional corporate executive of NGCP, said once the water level at the lake reaches 698.15 meters, the power plants will have to be shut down.

In recent history, there were only two instances wherein the water levels at the lake breached the 699.15 critical level mark: in April 19, 1991 when the water levels dipped to as low as 698.08 meters and in May 08, 1998 when water levels dipped to 699.01 meters.

"But these happened already in April and May, the peak of the summer season. Right now, it is only February but the water level is already dipping so low," Calabio said.

NGCP is not only crippled by the El Niño, which has dried up water reserves. More so, unprecedented economic activities that were not matched with investments in power generation place Mindanao in a tenuous situation.

"As early as 2008, the Department of Energy has warned the public about the crisis," Calabio said, citing an article printed on Sun.Star Davao last October 2008. "You have been warned."

Oratio Imperata

Like the Catholic Church, the NGCP is now urging the public to be more persistent in its prayers for rains to come and fall in the right places.

"For everything to be normal, the water inflow must be at 120 cubic meters per second. What we have now is only 30 cubic meters per second," Calabio said. "We have to pray for rain."

Starting last Sunday, the Catholic clergy has made it part of every mass to include an “Oratio Imperata,” or mandatory prayer, for rains to come in drought-stricken areas of the country and in Mindanao, where the dry season has severely affected the power supply.

Untapped Sources

A diesel-fired power plant in Iligan City, which has a full capacity of 100 megawatts (MW), continues to be mothballed despite the onslaught of a power crisis in Mindanao due to the low water levels in the island's water sources for its hydro power plant.

Reports gathered by Sun.Star Davao showed that the diesel-fired power plant has not been allowed to run by the local government unit of Iligan due to an unsettled tax-debt amounting to nearly P800 million.

If tapped to run, the diesel-fired power plant can generate an initial 35 MW as the other 65 MW capacity of the plant is under repair.