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Monday, April 22, 2019

Wenceslao: Buhisan dam

EVERY time the Buhisan Dam comes out in the news, I am always reminded of the years I spent in the villages and the man-made forest that straddle the watershed area that is giving life to the facility. I have long found out that talks about the status of the dam can never be separated from the condition of the nearby watershed.

The worry of Acting Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella about the rising waters in the dam is legitimate. But I am one with Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) information officer Charmaine Rodriguez in trying to ease Labella’s concern. The dam has, for a century, survived all that nature has thrown at it, so there’s no reason to be jumpy as yet.

MCWD, I reckon, is the authority on this one having monitored the structure for decades now. I just hope its officials would be more focused on the monitoring of the dam’s water level and issue periodic assessments at least to the Local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (LDRRMO). As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

***

The last time I set foot on the banks of the river dammed by that giant structure in Buhisan was when I joined the Centennial Trek organized by the group of Judge Meinrado Paredes in 2000. That trek from Buhisan to Babag brought us through the “linsa” (the farmers’ name for the mini forest) up to the peaks of Pamutan and Sapangdaku then to Babag.

It gave me a good enough view of the problem that government has been battling since the dam was constructed in 1912: siltation. When you are able to walk near the bottom of the dam’s water storage area, you’ll know how bad the siltation problem has become.

When MCWD unveiled a centennial marker at the Buhisan Dam in February this year, the firm’s officials admitted that the structure’s original water capacity was 10,000 cubic meters per day. Siltation reduced it to 6,000 cubic meters per day. MCWD promised to deal with the problem that time. It turned out that nothing much has moved
so far.

Siltation can’t be separated from the worries over the rise of the water level in the dam. When the impounding area is shallow, the dam easily becomes full. The worry of the dam overflowing would have not concerned city officials had the dam been desilted.

Again, why the problem wasn’t dealt with decisively by both MCWD and the Cebu City Government during the dry spell this year is an interesting question to ask. Now they will be forced to wait for the next dry spell before finally implementing the project to desilt the dam.

***

Siltation has become a problem there for several reasons, one of which is the kind of trees planted on the watershed areas. Mahogany, gemelina and teak are not native to the area and while they grow tall, they do not allow grasses to grow below them, thus allowing topsoil to be dragged down by the rain to the dam.

I don’t also know how zealously the trees are being protected. Some of the farmers living near or inside the watershed area engages in charcoal making to make ends meet.

When I was there, forest guards and the farmers reached an agreement that only native trees should be cut down to be made into charcoal. The “exotic” trees were to be spared.

On hindsight, that agreement may still have been wrong. Native trees like ipil-ipil and madre cacao encourage the growth of foliage in their environs, increasing their ability to hold the slopes’ topsoil. That’s just my theory. I leave it to the experts to expound on that. But I think these experts will agree with me that balancing the interests of the farmers with protecting the watershed area is a difficult task.

(khanwens@yahoo.com)
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