THE prevailing issue of the day is the El Nino phenomenon and the predisposition of this abnormal weather occurrence to wreak havoc on water supply, be it irrigation for farmlands or on domestic water supply.

Understandably the urgency of the situation prompts avenues for public forum and discussion, such as television networks and newspapers, to push the El Nino argument and discourse towards a context that presents a dire situation which requires a call to action.

Click here for Election 2010 updates

The Baguio Water District (BWD) supports and heeds calls for action to mitigate the effects of El Nino, as in fact this dry season, and with heightened awareness on the El Nino phenomenon prompted by public advisories and situation reports, it is keeping a close watch on its water sources to determine the extent of this weather occurrence’s effect to Baguio’s water supply and adopt contingency measures if necessary.

However, while it respects the prerogative of the media to push forward the issue of collective action in the face of a potential threat, the BWD feels it should redirect apparent impressions that have already filtered through the public arising from these reports, in the interest of accuracy.

The Santo Tomas Rain Basin (STRB) have figured in images, sound bytes and articles that support the context that due to the El Nino phenomenon, Baguio’s water supply is already threatened, punctuated by blurbs that say, “wala nang tubig ang Baguio…tuyo na ang reservoir.”

To use the STRB as a representation for El Nino’s effect on Baguio’s water supply is inaccurate to say the least. The rain basin, as its name suggests, is a rainy season source of water supply for the city’s southern parts and commonly utilized from August up to January of any given year. As soon as it is drained of its contents, the rain basin is subject to an annual maintenance program that includes desiltation and repairs if necessary.

The mobilization for STRB’s annual maintenance activities is also a cue for BWD to alternatively shift to its dry season water source which, for the rain basin, is the Stage 1 deep well located along Camp 6, Tuba, Benguet. The interplay of both of these water sources is that while the rain basin is being used, Stage 1 is on seasonal shutdown for groundwater recharge. As we again approach the rainy season and the rain basin is filled up, Stage 1 is shutdown for the season and water from the rain basin is again utilized.

This cycle of operating open water sources such as springs during the rainy season to allow wells to recover pumping water levels is adopted throughout the BWD distribution system. Springs such as Amliang, Buyog, Camp 8 and Amsing - because they are viable during the rainy season - allow wells to hibernate and recover their water levels for an important purpose: to be used during the dry season.

Thus, it is again inaccurate to assume in reports that the rest of the City of Baguio is dependent only on the STRB for its water supply and heaven help us if “tuyo na ang reservoir.” The BWD operates more than 50 wells of varying production capacities all over the city and these facilities collectively aid in water distribution.

Wells are established for another practical purpose. Because it is a source drawn from groundwater, it is less prone to evaporation compared to open water sources. It is not, however, limitless. As the dry season progresses, the water levels go down. To avoid overpumping in such a situation, BWD adjusts water schedules depending on the well’s diminished circumstances.

Based on the latest production statistics, the present rate of utilization for BWD’s wells is at 84 percent with a 15 percent reserve margin. Historically, its dry season utilization does not exceed 94 percent. The concern now is that if El Nino will cause a lingering dry season, BWD might again adjust water distribution schedules further until the rains arrive to replenish the levels of open and groundwater sources. However, the weather bureau reports no such possibility declaring that the El Nino in our midst is only mild.

El Nino or not, the BWD has always endeavored to provide for the water needs of Baguio residents and to prepare for contingencies during major events such as the Flower Festival and the Holy Week. In the 15 years of the Flower Festival’s staging, there has never been a situation where a lack of water was the cause of the festival’s failing or for that matter, Holy Week activities which is perennial in the tradition of Catholics worldwide. This is not our first time to make this public declaration since we have, in so many words, said these in interview sessions with a number of media personalities who came out with recent reports.

Likewise, this is not BWD’s first time to encounter the El Nino phenomenon, and in previous experiences it was able to muster its resources to prepare for and mitigate its effects. Efforts poured to prepare for the presence of this weather phenomenon at this time is no less different. But we will not cause undue alarm to the public it we find no abnormalities yet in the situation induced by El Nino. Public responsibility calls for this, and we can only plead for accurate reports.