Ledesma: Privatizing DCWD? You must be kidding

I UNDERSTAND the anger of Councilor Danny Dayanghirang but the least I expected from his fury is to call for the cancellation of the franchise of the Davao City Water District. For one, I do not think that is possible. Secondly, the statement suggests that DCWD be privatized. Danny has some friends who support his idea and have aired their views on the issue. I will defend their freedom to express their opinion but I will politely defer from the. And this is my take.

Except for Malagos surface water that is supplied to Calinan consumers, the rest of the water that DCWD distributes to urban areas of Davao City areas and outlaying barangays come from aquifers. The last time I heard, there were 58 production wells where we pump out water from. These are found mostly in Toril District all the way to Sirawan, Tugbok, and Mintal. In the 2nd District several production wells were drilled like those in Cabantian and Panakan but sadly the underground soil does not have similar structures as that in Toril. Instead of porous rocks DCWD well drillers encounter clayish structures complicated with so much organic and mineral deposits and do not yield enough volume of underground water. Unlike those in Daliao and elsewhere in the 3rd District, the few aquifers that yielded water fizzled out quickly obviously because it has no recharge area. In short these are dependent on direct rainfall. Organic water with heavy minerals is hazardous and hardly the kind of water you will love to drink. It smells like fart and the taste is far from being ideal and slightly turbid.

The population of Davao City has nearly tripled and so is the volume of water residential and industrial consumers need. Sadly, before the DCWD board decided to tap the surface water of Tamugan and Panigan rivers, the water district has virtually only one source -- the Acquifers. DCWD cannot over-extract water from these aquifers otherwise you run the risk of intrusion of saline water. Remember those aquifers are adjacent to the coastline. Once sea water intrude to the aquifers that occurrence becomes irreversible. Over-extraction is the reason behind Cebu's problem of salinity. It too would result to subsidence wherein concrete roads and houses would collapse on account of over extraction of underground water.

Tapping the surface water of Tamugan and Panigan is not a walk in the park and mind you government bureaucracy is among the deterrent factors why the bulk water project which DCWD embarked on with Apo Agua Infrastructura is taking like forever to accomplished. It took a year to get the nod of the Davao City Council, it took months to get clearance from the National Water Regulatory Board, it took almost a year to get clearance from the National Economic Development Authority, and then the arduous task of converting some idle agricultural lands into industrial. For this, DCWD and Apo Agua have to go back to the City Council and pursue this with the Department of Agrarian Reform. A complex of water reservoirs, water treatment plant, laboratory and a mini-hydro plant need all these clearances. You think those are enough? Far from it. You have to talk to barangay councils who are being tutored by some councilors to demand this and that and then the problem of the road rights of way is nightmarish. All told, the easiest to talk to are the lumad.

In the interim, (and frankly the logic behind it escapes me) the city council gave authority and permit to a Cebu-based water utility- Helpmate- to put up a water system that would supply the needs of the 2nd District. I thought maybe they just want to prove to DCWD that it does not have the sole knowledge of water supply and distribution. That was two years ago. In fact Helpmate immediately gathered applications for water connection. They also laid down small pipes that eventually led to SM Lanang which was supposed to be their major commercial client. Unknown to the public, both SM and Helpmate wanted to just use a common storage tank with DCWD. DCWD refused to have its water diluted with that of Helpmate for health security reasons. Helpmate was to source the water from Davao river. DCWD was willing to just terminate their water supply contract with SM and let Helpmate solely provide water to SM. The megamall opted to just retain DCWD. These days Helpmate is still in existence, so I heard, but they supply water only to a few client behind DMMA. Two years had elapsed but they never expanded. That's privatization for you.

In that recent City Council razzmatazz, nothing was mentioned over the facts that DCWD had replaced old and small pipes in anticipation for the pressure coming from the volume of water that will emanate from Gumalang where the treated bulk water supply will come from.

There has been unconscionable delay in the bulk water project and the last to be blamed is DCWD. Chairman Ed Bangayan is on top of the situation. It is right on schedule as far as its part of the project is concerned. Bureaucracy has pushed the time frame to 2021 instead of 2020. Once operational, the bulk water project will supply quality water to additional seven barangays in the 2nd District. Most of the present production wells will be "put to rest" which will allow our vital aquifers to be recharged for future generation.

Water rates is another story and our city dads should not advance their fear of water rate increase to cancel the franchise of DCWD and opt to privatize it. DCWD never implemented any water rate increase for years. With the gargantuan expense that go with the bulk water project it is justifiable and fair that they be allowed some adjustments. In time, DCWD may eventually reduce its rates because District 2 is an industrial district and in time the industrial consumers will absorb the cost. That, to me, should be what our city councilors must bargain for.

Beware of the privatization scheme and schemers. Look at the two giant distributors in Metro Manila-Maynilad and Manila Water. If mother nature did not come to the rescue, the taps of Metro Manila shall have ran dry. In fact thousands have ran dry. Look at the misery in Cebu, Butuan and Cagayan de Oro to name a few. Oh yes, I know of well connected politicians who are not only into housing but also water business who are out to gobble up water districts. Privatization? You must be kidding.


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