WE ALL live downstream. I once heard this phrase from one of our departed elders in media when we had a series of dialogues about the growing concern about the sad state of Balili River. Balili lies at the La Trinidad valley where strawberries are grown as part of its tourism promotion and I often see tourists eating berries right after they snapped and picked it from the ground where it grew. You can just imagine where that water came from and it must have been pumped somewhere near the place.
Did you know that the water that spills from the Burnham lake of Baguio City and the waste water coming from the city’s wet market flow to La Trinidad Valley?
It is because water from both sources flows through drainage culverts and canals and reaches the tributaries of Balili River.
The phrase “we all live downstream” literally means that we people living upstream affect the water being released through our sewage pipes and when we throw or dump solid wastes or toxic elements at Baguio’s creeks and rivers, it eventually reaches the sea which is the habitat of marine life. We have seen pictures and read about choked sea turtles and dead fishes including whales that succumbed to their untimely death because of pollutants. Today, there are barely no aquatic or marine life thriving along this river as it has become extremely polluted compared to my childhood days when we even swam at the Ambiong River just below the Bell Church.
With the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in coordination with the National Water Resources Board designated certain places in the country as Water Quality Management Areas using appropriate physiographic units such as watershed, river basins or water resources regions. The WQMA was meant to protect water bodies and its tributaries thru stakeholders collaboration by keeping their water quality within acceptable limits that conforms to certain standards.
Recently, I attended a technical working group meetings for the Amburayan and Abulug River Basins and I am scheduled next to the Abra River Basin Management Council this week. The first time that I crossed the Abra River was in 1987 when I covered the Manabo Congress that formulated the “Manabo Pagta” which was later forwarded to then President. Corazon C. Aquino outlining the terms and conditions or agreements set by those who attended. Due to a strong typhoon and heavy downpour from upstream, the Calaba Bridge between Bangued and La Paz was badly damaged with about four spans swept by the strong currents.
The Amburayan River is more familiar to me because of the legend of Lam-ang who was said to have bathed at said river killing fishes because he hasn’t bathed for a very long time. I lived in Sudipen, La Union during my childhood days at my mother’s ancestral home and I can’t forget the time when we swam at Amburayan River where relatives also catch fish using a “pana”, an improvised spear gun that uses umbrella ribs as its shooting rod.
While watching others swim at the irrigation system when was in Grade-1, I accidentally slid down the slippery embankment and was swept by the currents and I was lucky to have clung to a blocking acacia roots after about a hundred yards otherwise I could have drowned to death. The Amburayan upstream starts from Kapangan, Kibungan and Bakun of Benguet down to where it meets other tributaries from Santol and Sudipen La Union down to the province’s coastal boundary with Ilocos Sur.
I became part of WQMAs environmental protection and conservation since my office is a member of the governing board under the Water Quality Management Administration. My first encounter with governing board was during a technical working group meeting of the Apayao-Abulug River Basin Council at the DENR office in Pacdal. Created to mitigate possible environmental threats to the region’s “Last Frontier”, the TWG discussed possible economic development enterprises like fishery, food production as livelihood opportunities to disaster prone and vulnerable communities. Since Apayao is considered Center of Biodiversity in far north and habitat of Philippine Eagle, Apayao Forests are crucial sources of irrigation downstream thus it must stay protected from denudation.
In one August morning of 2019, I joined a group of Baguio reporters to check on an eroded portion of Kennon Road along Camp-5. We reached the place at a time when heavy equipment and dump trucks were already clearing the way and because of the rains and flood water coming from Baguio, the eroded soil that cascaded to the Bued River must have already been swept down to low lying areas like Pangasinan and the southern part of La Union. More on this in my upcoming WQMA meetings.