The gnawing water supply problem in Metro Cebu

By: Fernando Fajardo - CDN Digital | October 09,2019 - 07:02 AM

Water is vital for all forms of life. It covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface but they are not all drinkable. The oceans contains 97 percent of this water while another 2 percent is frozen at the poles. Most of the remaining 1 percent is groundwater. The rest are in rivers, lakes, and the atmosphere.

Metro Cebu’s water supply, mainly served by the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD), is largely dependent on ground water. Lately, numerous complaints of lack of water in the city were heard by City Hall. Fed-up with these numerous complaints, the Cebu City Council met with the MCWD Board on Tuesday last week to hear its side.

The board explained to the council that the reasons for the lack of water supply is the population boom of Metro Cebu, over extraction of groundwater, the saltwater intrusion, the nitrate contamination of groundwater wells, and the moratorium against drilling for groundwater, limiting the supply of water by MCWD to 250,000 cubic meters a day, which is only half of the estimated daily demand of consumers for 500,000 cubic meters per day. It was mentioned that the rise in population or residents, businesses and industries in the last decade made it impossible for MCWD to catch up with the demand for water supply.

It was also mentioned that MCWD limited its extraction to 170,000 cubic meters per day, which should have been well below the groundwater balance of 370,000 cu m per day but private individuals and companies are also operating their own wells and extracting about 230,000 cubic meters per day, on top of MCWD’s extraction.

It was mentioned further that the groundwater wells are also threatened by saltwater intrusion and nitrate contamination, which is brought about by nearby bottomless septage tanks buried underground. The board said that they had shut down nine wells for nitrate contamination and a few for high chloride levels despite the high demand for water.

Finally, the board informed the city council that they could not drill for more groundwater wells in some areas of Cebu City because the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) placed a moratorium or no drilling policy was placed in these areas.

As a solution, the board said that they are now going for surface water supply by maximizing the use of our river systems such as the Mananga Dam and Lusaran Dam. Once utilized, the two are expected to provide 80,000 cubic meters and 70,000 cubic meters per day, respectively. However, the development of these projects will take a long time, with the Mananga Dam taking at least six years to finish.

The board also informed the council that they received a proposal from a private entity to supply 100,000-cu m per day of desalinated water at P80 per cubic meter, excluding taxes. The board found the price and some provisions of the proposal not acceptable.

The board then told the Council that they need legislative intervention to stop the NWRB from releasing permits to private drillers in Cebu City to drill their own wells because these wells compete with their own wells in extracting water, leading to over-extraction of water from underground. They also urged the council to implement the ordinances for water catchments in all structures so rainwater can be collected.

Vice Mayor Rama said they would urge the city’s executive to implement the local ordinances for the water catchment and write to NWRB to express their objection on releasing permits for private drillers to extract groundwater in Cebu City.

Five years ago, the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI) asked me to make a study to look into the state of development of the Metro Cebu Water District with emphasis on issues affecting its operation and development. These issues comprise of institutional and policy issues and others related matters that are seen to have their greatest impact on the ability of MCWD to meet its objectives in providing safe, sufficient, and timely supply of water at reasonable prices to Cebuanos.

The ultimate objective of the study was to find measures that maybe acted upon internally by MCWD and externally by its stakeholders, including the government at the local and national level through plans and programs and relevant policies affecting the development and use of water in Metro Cebu in particular and the rest of the country in general.

This will be my topic next week.

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