MANILA -- A Jesuit-run school in San Juan City gave one of the most daring suggestions to address the water crisis in Metro Manila -- the recycling of human urine.

Being the first academic institution in the country to have a wastewater treatment plant, Xavier School had been recycling wastewater, including those collected from the school's urinal, since November 2009.

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"It was actually the idea of Xavier School to find a way to save water because raw water consumption would be costly if we don't find a way to reuse it," Arnold Acero, executive vice president of environmental engineering firm TechnoTest, said over a phone interview.

He also related to Sun.Star that the project took four and a half months to finish, from the wastewater treatment design to the construction of the plant before it started its operations late last year.

"We also allot one month alone to test if the water is bacteria-free. The water would be use on non-human contact purposes only. We have potability standards and the water coming from the tank is not advisable for drinking. However, if you drink it, it's not going to kill you anyway," said Acero.

He explained that the wastewater recycling plant works by collecting water from drainages, drainpipes, and toilets, and through a membrane-based process. It treats the water for reuse, for irrigation of the football fields, general cleaning, and toilet flushing.

The recycled water is also certified for standards based on a 2004 policy by US Environmental Protection Agency as TechnoTest uses both chemical and membrane-technology that is similar to what Singapore uses.

As of the moment, the water used for these functions comprise around 60 percent of Xavier's total water bill, with savings from the football field alone amount to 2,000 cubic meters.

"That's a lot of savings for the school. The project is also a way for the school to walk the talk in terms of sustainability," said Acero.

He refused to disclose the cost of the project but Xavier said the capital investment, based on the projected savings in the monthly water bill, should be recovered in three and a half years.

Maynilad Water Services Inc. has pushed the panic button on Tuesday as more barangays experienced water supply reductions, while its counterpart concessionaire is mulling to reduce allocation in some areas.

President's move

Also on Tuesday, President Benigno Aquino III directed the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to disseminate water conservation measures in the local government units (LGUs) as the government is set to start cloud seeding Wednesday.

Emergency leak repairs across the network of the dam are also being conducted to reduce leakage from 67 percent to 52 percent.

The government mobilized 40 tankers that would roam in Metro Manila. It is also planning to tap the Laguna Lake Development Authority to help in supplying water but noted that fishkill in the area must be addressed first.

The Laguna de Bay could produce 50 million liters per day, according to Singson.

Water rationing

Cherubim Ocampo, spokesperson of the west zone concessionaire, said the number of affected barangays zoomed to 117 from only 46 last Saturday, a day after it implemented water rotation schemes due to a 30-percent drop (around 720 million liters per day) in allocation from Angat Dam.

"The 117 barangays represent the areas which experience only around six to 10 hours of water supply and we also have 31 barangays which don't have water as of the moment. We cannot promise as to when the normal supply will come back because the water level in Angat Dam will not normalize too soon," she said in a radio interview.

On Monday, Maynilad said that more than 300,000 households had been affected by the supply reduction. Of this number, 152,000 households or 1.13 million people experience no water for up to six hours daily.

Jeric Sevilla, corporate communications head of east zone provider Manila Water Co. Inc., said that most of its customer base still gets normal water allocations although some elevated areas experience reduced pressure.

"These areas are San Mateo and Rodriguez in Rizal, parts of Marikina and Pasig. These areas experience reduced pressure but still getting water daily. But if the situation in Angat Dam persists, then we might also implement distribution schedules," he said.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, water level in Angat Dam is at 157.88 meters, 0.32 meter higher than the historic low of 157.56 meters recorded last Sunday.

The Angat Dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan supplies 97 percent of the capital's water needs and the remaining three percent are sourced from deep wells.

But this early, state weather forecasters see no substantial change in the elevation of the dam in the next two months.

"It is still a rainfall deficit by August. On September, the rains might normalize but it may not be enough for Angat Dam to return to its normal level," director Prisco Nilo of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical Astronomical and Services Administration (Pagasa) told Sun.Star.

Pagasa earlier said it would take at least three storms to replenish the water level in the multipurpose dam.

To avert the crisis, Maynilad said it has already deployed about 30 water tankers to service some areas of Quezon City, Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela, Las Piñas and Parañaque.

Manila Water also disclosed that it will lend its tanker services and has approved cross-border sharing arrangements with Maynilad, which is expected to benefit customers in some parts of Quezon City and Parañaque City.

"We will provide 36 million liters per day to Maynilad," said Sevilla.

Maynilad said it has outlined mitigating measures, which include the continuous sourcing of additional water tankers (even outside of Metro Manila) and tapping public fire trucks to assist in water rationing operations.

It also promised to implement appropriate system adjustments depending on efficacy of rotating water schedules; temporarily sourcing additional treated water from the east zone distribution network; installing four more static water tanks; beefing up its call center operations; and establishing additional El Nino hotlines.

Meantime, Sevilla said the ample supply so far on its concession areas are attributed to their modernization efforts since 1997.

"However, we have prepared for this eventuality by significantly reducing our non-revenue systems loss, which is so high when we took over in 1997. From a high of 63 percent in 1997, our modernization efforts reduced it to 13 percent today. The water that has been saved due to plugging the leaks and changing the pipelines has mitigated the impact of El Nino," he said.

Maynilad, on the other hand, has only reduced the systems loss from 67 percent to just 53 percent as it only started modernization efforts in 2007.

Water releases

Normally, Angat releases 4,000 million liters of waters a day for two water concessionaires, namely, Maynilad and Manila Water, in a 60-40 percent sharing, respectively.

Maynilad supplies areas in west of the Metropolis while Manila Water supplies the eastern part.

The water of Maynilad goes directly to its treatment plant while that of the Manila Water is deposited to La Mesa Dam.

With this, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Lazo Singson said areas in the west concession is experiencing more severe situation.

"In other words, kumbaga sa bahay yung isa may imbakan, yung isa wala," he said, citing the water supply will not normalize until the end of July.

Rationing assistance

Responding to appeal for assistance, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and volunteer firefighters on Tuesday said they are making their fire trucks available starting today (Wednesday) to distribute water.

The decision was reached after a meeting of MMDA general manager Robert Nacianceno, Maynilad Administrator Herbet Consunji, and Text Fire Federation head Gerry Chua.

Nacianceno said a total of 107 trucks will be made available to Maynilad to help distribute water in the cities of Quezon, Caloocan and Makati.

"Of the 107 fire trucks and tankers, seven will come from the MMDA while 100 will be from the Text Fire volunteers," Nacianceno said, adding that "water to be used in Wednesday's operations will be sourced out from fire hydrants all over Metro Manila."

He added that both the MMDA and the Chinese fire volunteers are willing to help Maynilad in rationing water to residents for the duration of the water crisis.

But at the same time, the official appealed to the public to conserve water, learn to use "tabo" while bathing and refrain from using high-pressure water hoses.

Earlier, Maynilad officials said the crisis could further worsen, leaving their customers with only six hours of water service daily.

Large areas under the company's concession are already experiencing water interruption or rotating supply rationing since July 16.

This was brought by the low water level at the Angat Dam notwithstanding last week's rains brought by Typhoon "Basyang."

The dam supplies more than 90 percent of the domestic water supply of Metro Manila, home to some 12 million people.

Angat mismanagement

Secretary Singson said there has been mismanagement in releasing water from Angat Dam, which led to the water crisis in Metro Manila.

He recalled that when typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng last year, the water level in the dam was at the spilling level. But this plunges when the National Power Corporation called on the released of huge amount of water from the dam.

"Pagasa was already advising there is going to be El Niño. We also say a letter from former Bulacan Vice Governor Willy Alvarado, appealing to National Water Resources Board (NWRB) not to release water because Bulacan was still flooded," he said.

Should the significant amount of water was properly managed, Metro Manila would not been experiencing difficulties in water, according to the public works official.

To avert the problem from repeating in the future, he proposed that the heads of the water sectors be revamped and called for a dynamic water-release protocol.