Last year we had one of the worst water crises that caused a lot of inconvenience to the people of Metro Manila. It caused a lot of panic, tensions, and fights and the impact was big it quickly became a national concern (even if it was happening in Metro Manila only).
Now that the worst is over, and the water supply is being prudently managed through daily service interruptions, it is not an assurance that the crisis won’t happen again. With the metro expanding, population rising, and demand for water becomes more critical as time passes.
To further understand the process, it’s best to trace the water source of the metropolis to further understand what is going on and from there find ways to prepare and possibly avoid another water scarcity scenario.
Angat River and Dam
We heard many reports about the water levels of the dams in Ipo, La Mesa, and Angat. However, it should be highlighted that Angat Dam is the most important of them all, particularly for water consumers in Metro Manila and nearby provinces (Note: La Mesa Dam only serves the East Zone of Metro Manila, and Ipo Dam is merely a diversionary—rather than a storage—dam). The Angat River in Bulacan, which collects its runoffs from the Sierra Madre mountain range, is the first concentration of water of the system.
Angat Dam was completed in 1967. Located in Norzagaray Bulacan, it is used to generate electricity through the Angat Hydropower Corporation and is also the major source of domestic water for the residents of Metro Manila. About 91% of Maynilad’s water supply comes from Angat Dam.
The Ipo Dam
It was built to divert the flow of raw water coming from Angat Dam so it can reach the Novaliches Portal, where the water is split between Maynilad for the West Zone and Manila Water for the East Zone.
Being a critical structure, public access is limited, though one can also appreciate the beauty of the reservoir with its waters flowing along the mountainous region where indigenous people like the Dumagats also live.
La Mesa Water Treatment Plants
The water from Angat River—after being stored in Angat Dam, diverted by the Ipo Dam, and split at the Portal—eventually goes to treatment plants. Maynilad’s share of the supply enters its La Mesa Water Treatment Plants. This is where Maynilad treats raw water to ensure potability.
Maynilad so far has a bigger customer base and serves the western half of Metro Manila, including some areas in Cavite. At this facility, the process of water treatment runs in constant motion following the demand of the whole Metro. From initial filtering to aeration and chlorination processes, and up to its final filtration, the system remains efficient and effective with potable water ready to be pumped out to its customers.
Imagine providing water to millions of people in their homes and businesses. This is where we get our drinking water, the ones we bathe in, the ones we use to cook and clean, and so many ways that it’s running out could mean chaos.
How We Can Help
Now that we know the origins of our tap water, there is still the threat that water supply might dwindle particularly during the dry season.
Due to less rainfall in the mountainous area where Angat Dam is located, the water level could dip to critical levels, as it did in the previous year. That is why the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) reduced the raw water allocation for the Metro Manila concessionaires, including Maynilad. Even though the water level in Angat Dam is currently above its operating level, it is still not safe to assume that the water elevation won’t go down again if normal allocation is maintained. Hence, the NWRB’s decision to reduce allocation is part of the government’s measures to ensure that there will still be enough water during the summer months.
Raw water allocation was kept at 42 cubic meters per second (cms) for several months, lower than the normal 48 cms allocation for water consumers in Metro Manila and the nearby provinces of Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan. As a result, the water concessionaires, including Maynilad, were forced to implement daily water service interruptions. This is to ensure that all customers will have the opportunity to have water even for a few hours daily.
Just recently, the NWRB increased allocation to 46 cms, in response to the government’s call for enhanced sanitation during the Luzon-wide quarantine due to COVID-19. While this enabled Maynilad to lift the daily supply interruptions and just isolate it to off-peak hours in some areas, it also brought down the water levels in Angat Dam. So constant monitoring of the dams is now being done, in case the NWRB is again forced to reduce our water allocation to preserve the water in Angat Dam.
To help mitigate the impact of the reduced raw water allocation, particularly during the dry months, Maynilad started implementing augmentation measures as early as last year. These are as follows:
- Optimizing its Putatan Water Treatment Plant 1 (PWTP 1) – Maynilad’s first facility to draw water from Laguna Lake since 2010.
- Commissioning of PWTP 2 – Maynilad invested in a second treatment plant that draws more water from Laguna Lake.
- Reactivating deep wells – Maynilad has been reactivating existing deep wells within its concession area, using additional treatment technology to make the yield potable.
- Sustaining reduction of water losses – Maynilad inherited one of the oldest pipe networks in Asia, with some segments dating back to the Spanish times. After pouring millions worth of investments, the company has already replaced over 2,500 kilometers of old pipes and repaired more than 360,000 pipe leaks since 2008.
- Purchasing modular treatment plants that will tap rivers in Cavite – Maynilad is exploring the deployment of modular water treatment plants that will extract raw water from Cavite rivers within the West Zone.
- Deploying mobile water tankers and stationary water tanks (SWT) – Maynilad acquired a total of 69 mobile water tankers and 32 SWTs, which are being deployed to different areas within its West Zone concession.
- Conducting cloud-seeding operations – Maynilad is currently working with MWSS, Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM), Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), and Philippine Air Force (PAF) on the guidelines and schedule of the cloud-seeding operations.
They are also urging the public to practice conservation in their own homes which can help preserve the limited supply.
It was a nightmare when we had days of no water last year. This caused a lot of tension and fear among people and businesses that are dependent on water. Since nature is really unpredictable, we as beneficiaries of this universal liquid should do our part and adjust, even with small things that can save water.
Maynilad and other concessionaires have no full control over the water shortage as they are dependent on the water allocation from NWRB. As the weather becomes hotter in the next few months, rainfall is forecasted to be irregular thus, normal water service might happen only in the wet season which would start in June or July.
It might have been discussed many times on how we can save water. But the challenge now is how to be more persuasive to get more people to save water and make it a way of life. Changing a person’s mindset and routine can save a lot of water which they can also teach to others. We cannot control the weather, yet we can control ourselves to avoid the worst thing we can imagine when the water stops flowing.