Policymakers should revisit the Kaliwa Dam project and weigh the consequences if it remains in the doldrums for a longer period.
The Philippine population is marching toward the 120-million mark and the demand for water naturally from residents and commercial users alike will increase exponentially. Water is a finite resource but the government and all stakeholders can manage and maximize its use to avoid wastage―and with the least impact on the environment.
The Kaliwa Dam in the Sierra Madre mountain ranges occupying the provinces of Rizal and Quezon offers the best solution to the water shortage now gripping Metro Manila and nearby provinces. The administration of the late President Ferdinand Marco Sr. proposed the construction of the Kaliwa Dam in the 1970s. Its rollout, however, was stalled because of the opposition of local stakeholders, especially from the environmentalists and indigenous peoples (IP) sector.
Environmental issues, a funding controversy and the disturbance on the way of life of the indigenous tribes should not outweigh the water security of the Philippines and the overall economic benefits of the project.
The sole source of water for Metro Manila is the 56-year old Angat Dam. Unfortunately, the Angat Dam can no longer keep up with the demand of Metro Manila residents for water. The Angat Dam can only provide 4,000 million liters a day to the National Capital Region, where 2,400 MLD is allotted for the west zone and 1,600 MLD to the east zone.
The demand figures could be an underestimate. Updated data from the the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System show water demand for Angat Dam in 2010 was already at 4,395 MLD while 2020 demand reached up to 5,680 MLD. The rising demand is the reason behind rotating water interruptions in the National Capital Region. To put it simply, water from the Angat Dam can no longer meet the demand.
The MWSS in January this year predicted that Metro Manila would experience a water deficit in 2024 because of increasing demand brought about by booming urban population and the rapid opening of Philippine economy after the pandemic.
The construction of Kaliwa Dam, thus, must start as soon as possible. Upon operations, the dam is expected to generate 600 MLD. Its water conveyance tunnel can further produce an estimated 2,400 MLD.
The supply water supply boost from the Kaliwa Dam will reduce the burden of Angat Dam. The operation of the new dam is also timely―water supply is not only affected by urban household demand but by other factors such as climate change, global warming and over-pollution. Kaliwa Dam’s operation will benefit 17.46 million people living in Metro Manila, Rizal and Quezon.
Opponents of the dam construction claim it will destroy ancestral forests and displace 5,000 IPs from the Dumagat/Remontados tribe and 100,000 residents living downstream.
These groups acknowledge the need for water security but believe that there are other alternative sources and ways to address the water problem, such as rainwater collection and the adoption of new technologies to convert wastewater into potable water.
The proposed alternative sources from the dam’s critics will only provide temporary relief and may even be too expensive to implement. The MWSS in 2019 ruled out the desalination option for the Philippines because of its high costs. If an average Filipino household is already complaining over the P40 price of water, what more if households will carry the costs of desalination treatment amounting to P90?
The MWSS fortunately addressed the concerns of the affected indigenous peoples. The agency has already obtained from the elders of the Dumagat-Remontados tribe the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) required by the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP). These tribes under an agreement will receive P160 million in disturbance fees. About P80 million will go to Tanay Dumagat-Remontados Ancestral Domain Development Inc. in Rizal while the other half will benefit the Pinagtaanan ne Dumagat/Remontado de General Nakar in Quezon.
The construction of the Kaliwa Dam must be finished as soon as possible because water supply in Manila is being continuously depleted due to rapid urbanization, big demand from households and businesses, over-pollution and the wide-array effects of climate change.
The IPs, meanwhile, can still preserve their culture since the physical, tangible objects needed to animate indigenous culture are still available in other locations.
With the imminent threat of climate change, IPs should acknowledge the possibility that their ancestral lands and material culture will also be altered and destroyed. But this does not mean the end of their civilization. Pacific Island nations, for one, are exerting efforts to preserve their culture while preparing to migrate to other countries since their homelands are expected to be consumed by the ocean in the coming decades because of global warming and climate change.
But the construction of the Kaliwa Dam cannot be overestimated. The water security to be provided by the Kaliwa Dam is needed for the sustenance of the Philippine economy.