BAGUIO

Domoguen: The Cordillera and the water crises that lie ahead

Mountain Light

(Conclusion of a two-series article)

IF THE news headlines since late October, this year, were an indication of the water crises ahead of us, let us heed the warning and start doing something.

The headlines describing this looming crisis also showed the nation’s general response to the problem.

On October 28, 2019, Malacañang vowed to avert the water crises affecting Metro Manila.

On November 4, Sara Soliven de Guzman in her column at the Philippine Star pointed out that the water crises affecting the nation’s capital started in March. The problems associated with the lack of water when it began early this year have not been resolved yet, she explained.

Still following up on this story, the Philippine Star in its headline story last November 7, reported that the water shortage in Metro Manila will last until March 2020.

Back home, SunStar, Baguio City’s daily newspaper reported last week that this tourist and educational capital is “water-stressed.” The report said Baguio City is among “the 10 cities in the country where water is scarce.” The report cited the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) as the source of the news.

While reviewing the news articles and commentaries on the ongoing water crises in Metro Manila, I came across Federico Pascual Jr., columnist at the Philippine Star, who reported a number of approved House Bills last October on rainwater harvesting. One wonders why our policymakers are taking this seriously now.

Indeed, it is quite ironic for a country drenched with rain almost all the months of the year, to be suffering from the shortage of water both for domestic, industrial, and agricultural uses.

Very ironic also is the reality that we are a nation crisscrossed with rivers and almost all of these are polluted with municipal wastes, not reliable for washing, cleaning, bathing, and irrigation.

Here in the Cordillera, those of us born from the 50s to 60s know that water spurts out at the bottom or slopes of the mountain beside or near the house. You can sleep anywhere with a murmuring stream nearby. Those features of mountain life including cool baths in clean rivers and lakes have started to disappear since the 70s.

Today, irrigation is one of the priority concerns in agriculture. It is too expensive as you source the water further away from the community or the farms.

For domestic use, the scarcity of water is felt most not only in Baguio City but in the region’s interior villages as you notice people lining up their water containers along the street or any place where a faucet could be found that yet flows with water.

Whether it is rain harvesting or preserving watersheds for human use, we talk much but do nothing.

I recall that in the 1970s, the government has already laid out a plan to have the river in Laiban, General Nakar, Quezon and Sta. Ines, Tanay Rizal dammed for domestic use in Metro Manila. But those lands are populated by indigenous peoples (IPs), and you just cannot drive them out. A win-win solution has yet to be found for the government, water supply franchises, consumers, and the IPs to resume the project for their benefit.

Meanwhile, HBs 411, 3124, 4698, and 8088 requiring institutional, commercial, and residential development projects in Metro Manila to install and maintain a rainwater harvesting facility should be approved and welcomed. I hope it will not end up as just another of those bills that were “filed” and forgotten.

Here in Baguio City, I know somebody who constructed his house that harvest rainwater and deposits it in a huge tank under the house. The family uses the rainwater for flushing the toilet, cleaning, washing, and to irrigate the plants.

For us Cordillerans, it is still in our best interest to preserve our remaining watersheds and to develop them as water towers and life sanctuaries.

One such sanctuary is the Sisipitan, Kaman-ingel, and Mengmeng (Sikame) watershed. Tony Balangue, of the Resources, Environment, and Economics Center for Studies, Inc. (REES) “reported that the Sikame Watershed is actually composed of nine sub-watersheds where rain surface runoffs and stream waters support the communities around the SIKAME area for their water needs for drinking, food production and other commercial uses.”

“The streams of these sub-watersheds drain out and feed the Abra River and Chico River with sustainable stream flows,” he added.

The Sikame watershed is largely situated in Besao and Sagada, some areas of Mainit in Bontoc, and parts of Sadanga, all in Mountain Province; and in parts of Tubo, Abra.

But on the basis of the boundary of the watershed, Dr. Balangue explained that it has a total land area of approximately 79, 426 hectares including portions in the provinces of Ilocos Sur and Kalinga.

In Abra and Mountain Province alone, the watershed has a total area of approximately 66, 118 hectares.

Balangue reported that in the proposed Project coverage barangays, water from the watershed is much needed in sustaining the productivity of roughly 14, 496.87 hectares of agricultural lands inside and around the watershed which are estimated to produce roughly 1,304 tons of milled rice annually in a single cropping season.

“With water for irrigation alone, productivity would double or even triple under a three-cropping season,” he reported.

Balangue said that domestic water supply in the Sikame communities is contaminated with e-coli due to the continued encroachment now on-going in the watershed.

The proposed project is now in its final stages before it is endorsed for possible assistance for funding by the government and other financing institutions.

I hope support will not come too late or we will have another Mount Data or Mount Pulag environmental debacle in our hands.

By then we will have rampaging flash floods of silt and debris during the rainy months and terribly dry summer months, the nature of the water crises unfolding before our eyes.


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