Palace seeks two water agencies

he Duterte administration has proposed the creation of two separate water agencies to solve water crisis in Metro Manila and nearby provinces: one will focus on economic and financial aspects and the other for policy formulation and resource regulation.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said two draft bills had been endorsed for approval and submission to the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC),  bills that would create two separate bodies involving water.

“One of the proposed agencies that will be formed will act as the apex body for the water resources sector. This agency will consolidate and reconcile water-related policy, planning, and programming mandates of the different agencies involved in water resource management. It will likewise ensure the efficient allocation of water resources across sectors,” Nograles said.

“The second body will be an independent and quasi-judicial body for water supply and sanitation. The office will ensure quality performance of water concessionaires and ensure transparency and predictability in economic regulation of water service providers,” he said.

He said that there are currently  30 or so agencies involved in water resources management but the water problem could not be resolved.

“For example, there are four agencies involved in resource assessment, four involved in policy, seven in water supply, four in sanitation, five in water quality management, and six in watershed management,” the Palace official said.

“And yet. there is no single repository of water data, and no regularly updated water availability data. This is an untenable situation,” he said.

Nograles also cited short-term measures that would be undertaken to address the water supply problems in Metro Manila by the standby deep wells designated for use during natural disasters.

“There are a total of 109 of these wells in NCR, and the National Water Resources Board will work with the MWSS to identify which wells can be tapped, and to ensure that water quality in these wells is evaluated and constantly monitored,” Nograles said.

“There is a need for a government-led policy for the sustainable optimization of water resources. For instance, the water run-off used by hydropower plants to move their turbines,” he said.

“What’s absurd is that the households near and along those rivers, they don’t have water for domestic use. Aside from households, we should find a way to make use of run-off water from hydropower plants to water farms and industries,” he added.

In related developments:

* House Minority Bloc Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez has offered several water sources in his province to help ease the shortage in Metro Manila.

At a congressional hearing, the construction of at least one was reported to have been started but work was suspended due to an accident the resulted in the death of six workers.

Suarez said the Sumag River Diversion Project shall supplement the water from Umiray River going to the Angat Reservoir, which shall increase the supply to the Maynilad Water Services and the Manila Water Co.

* Farmers may tap some form of a lifeline in provinces severely hit by the dry spell as Senator  Grace Poe urged local governments to implement a cash-for-work program as a temporary relief.

In a radio interview in Quezon province, Poe said local government units had a huge role to play especially in extending assistance to farmers whose livelihood were at risk due to the ongoing El Niño.

Crop damage due to El Niño has topped P1.3 billion across the country. 

According to the Agriculture department, 14 out of 17 regions have been affected, with 78,348 metric tons worth of farm output and 70,353 hectares of agricultural land damaged and 84,932 farmers reported losses.

In North Cotabato alone, P670 million worth of agricultural products have been damaged.

* The chief of the National Water Resources Board, along with other environmental and water experts, on Thursday, recommended the creation of a Department of Water and a Water Regulation Commission to address a shortage of water in the next few years.

At a water summit press conference in Quezon City, NWRB executive director Sevillo David Jr. backed the proposal to create new agencies that would integrate all the functions of various departments involved in the management of water resources, such as the Department of Public Works and Highways and NWRB.

Even Assistant Secretary Roderick Planta supported such integration of functions, duties, programs and projects in connection with water management of all government agencies.

The creation of the two new agencies was the recommendation made by ex-environment secretary Elisea Gozun, ex-NWRB executive director Ramon Alikpala, David, Planta, and ex-agriculture secretary William Dar.  

But ex-environment secretary Heherson Alvarez rejected the proposal, saying rain harvesting or water preservation must be first instituted at the household level.

“In our province, houses are designed in such a way that there should be an inverted pyramid to catch rainwater. We cannot come up with a homogenous solution through this creation,” he said.

“This is more complex,” he added. 

Construction of the Sumag River Diversion Project in Quezon was halted in 2016 because of an accident that took the lives of six individuals who were working on the project, according to Suarez.

The project was discussed when the House Committee on Public Accounts, which Suarez chairs, held a briefing on the performance of concerned agencies on water management, particularly in ensuring an uninterrupted and adequate supply and distribution of potable water.

Suarez announced to the panel that he had also relayed to Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that he had asked the lifting of the suspension of the diversion tunnel’s construction.

“The government should push through with the Sumag [River Diversion Project], and fix the defects that go with it.   We are lifting the objection, so you may proceed with it,” he said, directing the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System.

At 70 percent completion, engineer Jose Dorado Jr. of the MWSS assured that if the project resumed now, the diversion tunnel would be finished before 2019 ends.

In addition, Suarez also endorsed the Kanan River Bulk Water Proposal of Energy World Corporation to provide long-term solutions to the insufficiency of water resources in the country.

He said this would be more beneficial for the government compared to the China-funded Kaliwa Dam, which he stressed will be funded on borrowed money.

“We have a private sector who is saying we can do the same with even better services and features. Instead of spending, the government will earn more revenues,” said Suarez.  So why are we going to compete with the private sector just because we have an offer from the Chinese who say we are willing to lend you money?” he added.

Suarez said besides supplying the country with clean water, the water project would also supply energy through hydropower.

He directed the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines to set a meeting with Energy World, together with Maynilad and Manila Water, to further discuss this matter.

Areas that have so far declared a state of calamity included Zamboanga City, Zamboanga Sibugay, Pagadian City, Kidapawan City, five towns in North Cotabato, and San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. Several provinces are poised to declare a state of calamity as the effect of El Niño is expected to worsen in the coming weeks.

According to Poe, the calamity fund of LGUs might not be able to sufficiently sustain farmers’ livelihood.

Poe said LGUs must also coordinate with concerned state agencies to ensure that irrigation systems reached farmlands.

The cash-for-work aid, Poe said, could also augment the government’s existing intervention programs for El Niño such as farmers’ loans, seed and fertilizer assistance, cloud seeding and crop insurance.

Topics: Duterte administration , water crisis , Karlo Nograles , Danilo Suarez
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