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Water crisis escalates in Cebu City: Bureaucratic delays hamper desalination projects

By: Pia Piquero - Multimedia Reporter - CDN Digital | April 11,2024 - 09:00 AM

Water crisis escalates in Cebu City: Bureaucratic delays hamper desalination projects

CDN File Photo (2024)

CEBU CITY, Philippines – It was already 3 a.m. at the Pasil Fish Market when the hubbub of voices finally died down. Dina, a fish vendor, breathed a sigh of relief as they managed to sell all their fish.

Despite feeling relieved, Dina could not conceal her exhaustion. The sweat on her forehead and her aching back were evidence of how much she had accomplished throughout the day. After all the hours of trying to convince customers to buy her fish, all she wanted now was to have a good “night’s” sleep.

But she knew she could not do that right away because she still had to prepare all the pails and containers to store water for the day’s consumption.

Dina had been doing this since March of this year.

“Wala ko tarong tulog kay magatang ko kanus-a moagas ang tubig. Ang agas gud sa amoa magsugod ala una sa kaadlawon, mopawong na pud siya alas singko. Mao nay nakalisud sa sitwasyon karon, dili ensakto amo pahuway. Kapoy kay bug-at sige og hakot og tubig,” Dina said.

(I have not have a good night’s sleep because I will have to wait when the water would start flowing. There would be water here will start at 1 a.m., it will stop at 5 a.m. That is what that is difficult in our situation here, we cannot really have a complete rest. It is really tiresome because it is heavy fetching water.)

READ: ‘Water crisis’ in Cebu City, declares Mayor Rama

Voices of distress due to water crisis

Several residents in Cebu City, like Dina, are struggling to find time to rest due to the intermittent water supply. Its availability is only in the wee hours of the day, the result of the scarcity of water resources.

Many individuals have shared their distress over the unavailability of this vital resource on social media, particularly during such a critical period of need.

For instance, a resident from D. Jakosalem,  Barangay Zapatera in Cebu City took to Facebook on April 8 to express her complaint about the lack of water in their area for the past two days.

In her post, she included the hashtag #MCWD, which refers to the Metropolitan Cebu Water District.

Similarly, a resident from Sawang Calero expressed her frustration on her personal account on April 9, sharing a post from the MCWD advisory announcing a two-day water interruption.

READ: MCWD: LWUA takeover sparks controversy, Daluz challenges authority

Government, MCWD response and controversy

Although the Cebu City government and the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) are said to be taking action and proposing multiple plans to resolve the ongoing crisis, the public cannot help but express doubt.

Despite attributing factors such as El Niño to the water crisis, questions have arisen regarding the effectiveness of the MCWD in addressing this pressing issue in a timely manner.

It appears that the semi-government body tasked to supply Metro Cebu with potable water has been preoccupied with other things.

This included its current battle for authority against not only the Cebu City government but also the  Local Water Utilities Administration, which previously announced the implementation of a six-month intervention in its policymaking.

The MCWD, however, remained firm on their status quo stance, arguing that LWUA’s intervention lacks “legal validity and justification.”

Prior to LWUA’s involvement, the water agency also faced internal disputes over authority, with board members appointed by Rama seeking to replace the current board.

One dispute followed another, yet the issue of water supply remained unresolved, leaving people questioning: What about our water problem?

But MCWD chairman Jose Daluz III assured the public that they were doing their best to address the ‘water crisis’ here.

READ: MCWD deploys mobile siphon tanks in 2 Cebu City barangays

The promises and delays of desalination projects

In an interview with CDN Digital, Daluz said they were “working their best” to complete projects aimed at injecting more water supply in Metro Cebu.

The MCWD top official revealed that they aimed to have the desalination plant in Mambaling to be operational by May.

But like most big-ticket projects by the government, it also incurred multiple delays, and Daluz attributed this to bureaucracy.

Initially planned to be completed last March, Daluz disclosed that the contractor had requested to extend their deadline. Should the previous target been successful, the plant could have benefitted around 30,000 households.

While acknowledging that the government has good intentions in setting up regulations for infrastructure projects, the MCWD pointed to bureaucratic delays as the ‘primary issue’,

“Ato na lang ni giextend not because wala nicomply ang supplier…Naa na ang facility sa Mambaling. It’s just the bureaucracy of the government,” he said.

(We just extended it not because the supplier did not comply … the facility is there in Mambaling. It’s just the bureaucracy of the government.)

According to Daluz, having desalination plants would provide an additional water supply to hundreds of households.

Desalination is one of the most common processes of tapping other sources of potable water, by sourcing and filtering seawater so that it will be suitable for human consumption or irrigation.

Aside from the one in Barangay Mambaling, Cebu City, MCWD is also eyeing to put another desalination plant in Cordova town on Mactan Island. The one ine Cordova is being built by Vivant Hydrocore Holdings Inc. and its technical partner is Israel-based Watermatic Philippines.

Aside from the desalination plants, in January of last year (2023), MCWD revealed that the Pilipinas Water Resources Inc. (PWRI) had supplied them  an additional 20,000 cubic meters of desalinated water per day

The 10,000 cubic meters came  from their Mambaling plant in Cebu City, while the remaining 10,000 cubic meters originated from their facility in Opao, Mandaue City.

READ: El Niño impact: 30M liters of water lost due to dry spell, says MCWD

Water deficit at 40,000 cubic meters due to drought

MCWD serves the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Talisay, and Lapu-Lapu and the towns of Consolacion, Liloan, Compostela, and Cordova.

With the onslaught of the El Niño phenomenon, the utility firm is facing a deficit of 40,000 cubic meters. However, in a recent interview, Daluz stated that the deficit has further increased to 43,000 cubic meters and continues to rise.

Initially, the deficit was only at 30,000 cubic meters, but due to the worsening drought conditions, Daluz observed a notable increase of 10,000 cubic meters in water loss.

According to Daluz, this deficit was a result of the drying up of major water sources such as the dams in Buhisan, Lusaran, and Jaclupan.

Daluz revealed that Jaclupan, which typically produces 35,000 cubic meters of water daily, has experienced a significant decrease to only 20,000 cubic meters. This shortage has resulted in a distribution issue of water in Talisay and the south district of Cebu City.

Similarly, the Buhisan, which would typically produce 6,000 cubic meters, has dropped to 2,681 cubic meters.

Furthermore, Lusaran, with a usual production of 30,000 cubic meters daily, has experienced a reduction to only 15,000 cubic meters.

READ: Resolution probes El Niño phenomenon, water crisis in PH

MCWD installed Mobile Siphon Tanks

On the other hand, MCWD also decided to deploy mobile siphon tanks (MSTs) in the mountain areas of Cebu City, which are typically not reachable even during normal days due to their elevation.

MSTs are placed in rivers to collect water, which then undergoes a purification process to become potable water. This collaborative initiative with Cebu City involves the city providing fuel for the operation.

Once operational, the system can generate water at a rate of 10 cubic meters per hour, with installations in Barangays Bonbon and Cambinocot. This accessible water supply serves the community, offered free of charge.

The truck-mounted MST installed in Barangay Cambinocot is worth approximately P15 million and can produce up to seven cubic meters of potable water per hour or up to 168 cubic meters of water per day.

This potable water output can be shared with the residents of other Cebu City barangays — Pulangbato, Binaliw, and Sirao.

On the other hand, the stationary MST installed in Barangay Bonbon produces 480 cubic meters of water per day or up to 20 cubic meters of potable water per hour, serving residents of Barangays Buot, Pamutan, Sapangdaku, and Babag.

Other efforts and assistance

While the MCWD continued to push for the implementation of desalination projects and MSTs, where they recognized their potential to address the water supply issue, the Cebu City government also lent its support.

City Mayor Michael Rama already approved P96.94 million in calamity funds to address the water crisis, which is now under the Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CCDRRMO).

Councilor Joel Garnagera, the chairman of the committee on Environment, Natural Resources, Energy, and Other Utilities, also confirmed their preparedness to assist around 500 farmers affected by the El Niño phenomenon.

He mentioned providing hoses, barrels, large containers, and tanks.

Garganera also said that they also had a composite team together with the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) and the barangays to scout the possible areas for the “mini reservoir” or the “gabion dams” from the north and south districts.

However, at the end of the day, MCWD cannot solve the water problem… alone

Despite the concerted efforts of the MCWD and the Cebu City government to address the water crisis, challenges remain ahead.

Daluz, himself, acknowledged that they alone could not solve it, and he claimed that they “lacked sufficient support” from the government.

While acknowledging the expertise and competence of the individuals within the water agency, Daluz emphasized that this alone was insufficient.

“It [MCWD] needs the support of Cebu City, [of] all of the LGUs and the National government… Cebu City has plenty of water [but] what we don’t have is infrastructure to store and impound water. We don’t have desalination plants. We don’t have the dams,” Daluz said./ with reports from Niña Mae Oliverio, Wenilyn Sabalo

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TAGS: Cebu City, MCWD, water crisis

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