PAST FORWARD: The water crisis of 1931 and today

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales March 18,2019 - 06:42 AM


It is quite interesting to see how then as now, the water level at Buhisan Dam has been an important gauge to determine whether we are in the midst of a water crisis, even though this 107-year-old conical dam now only provides but a tiny portion of the water needs of Metro Cebu today.

The April 12, 1931 headline of ‘Progress,’ the English-language newspaper published by Sen. Vicente Rama, screams in all caps: “WORST WATER CRISIS FEARED.” The report that follows, which may well have been written for us today, reads: “With the advent of the dry season, the supply of water at the Buhisan Dam has been day by day diminished…Unless rain will pour in the next few days, the city is in danger of facing an acute water crisis…”

During this time, the official water bearer was called Osmeña Waterworks, which was under the management of the Bureau of Public Works (BPW) district engineer who happened to be Juan Macaraeg, the maternal grandfather of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In order to conserve water in the city Macaraeg orders that water from Buhisan Dam passing thru the Labangon Reservoir (what is today probably the Tisa Filter Plant) be given only from 5:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Macaraeg’s order then adds that owners of tall buildings and houses situated on high places should store sufficient water for use during the rest of the day. Sounds familiar?

And this: although the Labangon and city pumps would be operational between 9 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. the following day, the water pressure was expected to be low such that not all buildings would be served by the system. In case of fire, a guard was stationed at the Labangon Reservoir who will open the city distribution valve upon request by telephone call from the Osmeña Waterworks office.

Fast-forward to the 1950s and the Osmeña-owned “Daily News” reports of Gov. Serging Osmeña’s desire to build a hydroelectric dam over a portion of the Mananga River, both to provide electric power and additional potable water. Unfortunately, then as now, the project never went beyond feasibility study phase, rejected by the national government as too costly.

In the 1980s, the idea of a large, multi-billion peso Mananga Dam was revived, this time during the term of Gov. Lito Osmeña if I’m not mistaken. Unfortunately, the cost, already seen in the 1950s as prohibitive, had by then become even more expensive.

Other alternatives were then proposed, like securing water draining out of the large Inabanga River of the town of Inabanga in Bohol. That too was again seen as too costly and environmentally and socially unsound.

The most recent attempt to tap water from other riverine sources came with Maynilad Water and the Province of Cebu entering into an agreement, together with the Municipality of Carmen during the term of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, which finally secured a viable water source for Metro Cebu through a private water service provider.

Osmeña Waterworks has now been replaced with the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) and clearly we no longer rely just on one single source, Buhisan Dam, for our water needs. But the burgeoning population not just of Cebu City but of the cities and towns that make up what is now Metropolitan Cebu means that certain sections of the metropolis will continue to suffer from water service interruptions during the dry season.

Sadly, what was considered an occasional if not rare water crisis in the 1930s has now become an annual phenomenon in our time. Perhaps it is indeed time to revisit the Mananga project?

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TAGS: #CDNDigital, 1931 water crisis, CDN Digital opinion, Cebu water crisis, columnist Jobers Bersales, water shortage in Cebu through the years

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