Why use Cebu rivers as dumps?

By: Bencyrus Ellorin March 20,2015 - 02:33 PM

Philippine Water Week  hits a high note this weekend with a Hangyo sa Sapa River Clean-Up on Saturday and  a walk-bike tour of the Parian esteros  in  Syagit sa Sapa in Cebu City on Sunday.

Rapid urbanization has long taken its toll on rivers and waterways in Metro Cebu.  This has led to  pollution and reduced water carrying capacity resulting in more frequent floods.

Historically, the waterways in Metro Cebu like the Bulacao River, Tagunol Waterway, Kinalumsan River, Guadalupe River, Estero Pari-an, Lahug River, Mahiga River and the Butuanon River provided basic life support – water for domestic use and drinking.

Some were also navigable and played an important role in transportation and trade.

Population pressure and disregard of regulations on  water use and public easement has destroyed the waterways.


In a presentation yesterday to drum up support for a campaign to raise public awareness to save Cebu rivers, Marc Canton of the Movement for a Livable Cebu (MLC), described today’s state of local waterways.  They are:

–  A source of stench in the neighborhood and surrounding cities and towns;
– Useless as drainage for floods;
– Threats to health of residents with increasing fecal coliform count
– Used as regular garbage dumps that affect even the city’s  tourism center; and
– Unsightly and embarrassing parts of the city.

Canton warned that “it is sheer madness to interrupt the natural waterways; Nature will always insist on its way or we pay the price.”    The price is urban flooding.

In September last year, heavy rains that fell in a single day placed  80 percent of Cebu City roads underwater.

A 2013 study of the University of San Carlos (USC) Chemistry Department described the downstream portions of Guadalupe, Mahiga and Butuanon Rivers as unfit for animal habitation.

River samples from these sites showed  100 percent mortality of  young tilapia fish and very low levels of dissolved oxygen which is  needed for  aquatic animals and plants to survive.

The low level indicated the extent of garbage whose  decomposition of organic matter was using up the oxygen in the water.

The same study observed the highest concentration of ammonia and nitrates in the Guadalupe River, the biggest river in Cebu. The presence of the  chemicals point to the use of chemical fertilizers in farms.


A 2013 study by the Department of Engineering and Public Works (DEPW) of Cebu City confirmed constriction, shallowing and clogging of rivers and waterways. This increases the risk of floods.

Constriction was  caused by unregulated construction and settlements in the river and easements. Silted waterways  became shallow from the buildup mostly of  organic domestic waste.

Plastic wrappers and other non-biodegradable litter clog the waterways.

Drainage infrastructure and effective implementation of the Solid Waste Management Law is considered  as the only solution to this problem.

The DEPW study noted that coastal barangays in Cebu City are more flood prone, and when it is flooded, water recedes at a much slower rate.

It cited areas in barangay Inayawan (Bulacao River), Duljo Fatiman (Kinalumsan River); and Tinago (Lahug River) as areas where floodwater can be highest and slow in receding.

“Depth of floodwater (in these areas) is about 0.4M to 1.2M high and stays for as long as eight to 72 hours,” the study said.

Other coastal barangays are inundated with about 0.3M to 3M for about 0.5 hours to 2.5 hours.

Even elevated barangays like Kamagayan, near the Estero Pari-an can be flooded up to 24 hours. Areas  in Labangon and Calamba, near the Kinalumsan and Guadalupe River can be flooded for up to an hour.

Raising public awareness is the first step, according to the Movement for a Livable Cebu with Sunday’s ‘Syagit sa Sapa’  as the opening salvo.

More events will be held leading to  the 3rd Sustainable Cities Dialogue in Apirl or May, where guests include Public works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and mayors of  Metro Cebu.

The dialog, said Canton, would  spell out “concrete next steps for a safe, coherent, sustainable river clean up that is designed by experts, implemented by professionals with the help of the citizenry.”


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TAGS: Butuanon River, Cebu, Estero Pari-an, Guadalupe river, Kinalumsan, Lahug River, Mahiga River, river clean-up

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