HOUSEHOLDS, farm owners and barangays reeling from the dry spell were advised yesterday to prepare tanks, jars and other containers to catch rainwater once the rainy season begins.

A water shortage has drawn attention again to a 21-year-old law that requires the public works department to make sure each barangay has “rainwater collectors” or wells. That law, said environmentalist and 2009 Ramon Magsaysay awardee Antonio Oposa Jr. in a text message, “has not been enforced and not one (rainwater collector) has been built.”

Rainwater harvesting as one of many solutions to prevent a water shortage surfaced in at least two presentations in a forum organized to mark World Water Day yesterday.

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Only about one-third of the average annual rainfall in Cebu is left for use, after the rest seeps into the groundwater table or evaporates. Yet of that potential supply, about half goes to waste as runoff water, said Engr. Fe Walag, deputy director of the University of San Carlos Water Resources Center.

Faster

Cebu also extracts water much faster than it recharges its sources, she said. Thousands of private wells, many of them without permits, draw water yet go unregulated. The Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) produces 175,000 cubic meters a day, about half of the total demand of its 128,000 customers.

This year’s dry spell affects only about 10 percent of their total daily production, said Engr. Astrophel Logarta, manager of MCWD’s production and distribution department. It has cut down to 3,000 cubic meters (cbm) a day, from 8,000 cbm, its total supply drawn from the Buhisan Dam since the dry spell started.

No concrete

Apart from setting up rainwater tanks, households and barangays were urged not to pour concrete over yards and public spaces, to allow more rainwater to recharge parched water tables.

Sun.Star Cebu reported that Talisay City passed last year an ordinance requiring businesses and households to install rainwater tanks, or pay P2,000 to P10,000 per violation. Cebu City passed a similar ordinance in 1998. It said building or occupancy permits shouldn’t be issued to contractors or developers who fail to install rainwater cisterns in all commercial, industrial and residential buildings.

Rainwater harvesting illustrates the recommendation to “think globally, act locally” in dealing with climate change and other environmental challenges. But it also shows the often familiar gap between policy and implementation.

4 of 100

Architect Socorro Atega, in her presentation, cited a study that showed only four of 100 respondents harvested rainwater in Cebu, compared to 60 who relied on either bottled water or MCWD taps. Atega is executive director of the Cebu Uniting for Sustainable Water, which organized yesterday’s forum along with MCWD, the environment department and five foundations.

Republic Act 6716 requires the Department of Public Works and Highways to build rainwater collectors or rehabilitate wells, so that each barangay shall have at least one additional water source. Congress passed it in 1989.

Households can harvest rainwater by placing jars or tanks under rain gutters. On a larger scale, reservoirs, catchment basins or detention ponds can be created in barangays.

“These are things we can do today,” said Lorenzo Tan, president and chief executive officer of the World Wildlife Fund in the Philippines. “Next time you wash your car, don’t use the clean water from MCWD.”

‘Four taps’

Rainwater harvesting and desalination form parts of Singapore’s “four taps” strategy in ensuring sustainable and safe water supply, a challenge made more urgent by climate change, Tan said. Here at home, local governments need to wrap up their work on coastal, water and land use plans. Measures to cope with climate change-related risks, like floods and landslides, also need to be required of those applying for environmental compliance certificates, he added.

“Cebu’s water strategy must be climate-smart…Without water, no region can remain competitive,” Tan said. The problem is that most people treat water like an automated teller machine. “We just keep making withdrawals, and no deposits.”

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, for his part, said that while he welcomes suggestions to rely more on reservoirs and catch basins for water supply rather than underground sources, this may not apply to all areas in the city.

The mayor pointed out that not all the water in the watershed system goes to Cebu City, since the catch basins are located in the neighboring city and towns.

“Yes, it is feasible. As a matter of fact, that’s the key to solving our drainage problems because it prevents water from going down. But the catch basins don’t go to Cebu City... they’re in Talisay City, in Balamban and in Liloan-Compostela boundary,” he said during his news conference yesterday. (IDA/With a report from LCR)