Dried out: Investigating the Metro Manila water crisis

Since March, several districts in Metro Manila have been experiencing daily water interruptions and rotational interruptions implemented by the two sole water concessionaires in the metropolis—Manila Water and Maynilad. However, it was not until June that the severity of the issue at hand was emphasized. 

Last June 8, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) declared the onset of the rainy season. Looking back, this had little effect on addressing the issue with the critical water levels in Angat Dam—which mainly provides Metro Manila’s water supply. However, both of the aforementioned water concessionaires, along with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System—the government agency responsible for water privatization in Metro Manila—anticipated the shortage and have been imploring immediate action ever since a light El Niño was forecasted over the dry season as early as last year. 

Fast forward a week after the rainy season was declared by PAGASA, the water levels at Angat Dam still remained at critical levels. This can be explained by the fact that most of the areas in Central Luzon affected by strong rains caused by the southwest monsoon Habagat—which can be characterized by heavy rainfall and humid weather—lie in the western section of the region. Unfortunately, Angat Dam is located in the eastern section of the region, along the Bulacan-Norzagaray area, where rainfall has only been light. Based on PAGASA’s projections, it will more or less take two to three months before the dam recovers. 

Symptom of a bigger problem

Dr. Marla Redillas of DLSU’s Department of Civil Engineering discusses with The LaSallian the water crisis. Before teaching in DLSU, Redillas worked on data gathering and statistics in Manila Water. According to the professor, the water crisis experienced throughout the Metro can be boiled down to three reasons. 

The first is urbanization. As Redillas points out, humans have made an impact on the natural water cycle. In a general scenario, the water cycle starts off in the form of precipitation or rain. Fifty percent of this precipitation seeps into the groundwater, 40 percent goes back into the atmosphere, while the rest stays on the ground’s surface and becomes “runoff”, or excess water. This runoff replenishes the natural water sources on the surface such as lakes and rivers. 

When humans come into the picture, the natural water cycle is disrupted. Many communities tap into the groundwater as their main source of freshwater. While this may provide a community with a large reservoir of freshwater, it is not sustainable as it takes a long time for groundwater to be replenished. Moreover, urbanization also means paved roads, buildings, and less trees. Redillas adds that removing an avenue for water to evaporate into the atmosphere or seep through the ground makes it even more difficult for traditional sources of water to be replenished. 

The second reason is meteorological phenomena. Redillas points out that over the past 30 years, there have been fluctuations in the amount of rainfall received throughout the country, with the trend decreasing over time. The National Capital Region (NCR) experiences dry and wet seasons. Because of the lack of rainfall during the dry season in NCR, water for drinking and domestic use is sourced mainly from reservoirs such as Ipo Dam and Angat.

Although in reality, these reservoirs are not enough to support the population in NCR—the third reason for the water crisis. The current infrastructure in place was built around the Marcos era according to Redillas;  as part of common practice in designing infrastructure, the ones who built the dam had to forecast the future water demand. Redillas reveals that the then forecast period ends around this year, which means that the designers have only considered population growth up to this point in time. Despite this, past administrations have not improved the infrastructure put in place decades ago, and thus the demand started to surpass the supply of water. 

Dire consequences 

Since its announcement, various areas have been affected by the “Manila Water Crisis”, as dubbed in social media, with majority of the affected barangays located in the less commercialized areas of Makati, Marikina, Pasig, Pateros, Taguig, Mandaluyong, Quezon City, Rizal, and San Juan. In contrast, the more tourist-heavy areas of Pasay, which includes Newport City and the Mall of Asia area; majority of Makati; and the Bonifacio Global City were largely unaffected. 

Several respondents have voiced out their concerns regarding the water service interruptions posed by Maynilad; residents in the University’s vicinity in particular have been affected by the water shortage. For most, especially students, this was their first time being directly affected by a water shortage. 

For Martin Toledano (IV, CS-CSE), who stays in a condominium building along Taft Ave., had to follow a schedule provided by the building administration and queues up outside the building’s main lobby along with other unit owners and tenants every night just to collect water for basic necessities. Additionally, due to the inconsistent schedule implemented, the water pressure was not strong enough to provide them with consistent water supply—his unit being on the 33rd floor. As a result, they had to take showers in different establishments that had their own water cisterns. 

Some students, on the other hand, were more fortunate. Although Jerahmeel Chua (IV, CS-CSE) lives in one of the affected areas, Chua claims that he and his family were not able to feel its effects. 

Despite facing different experiences, however, both students have similar thoughts regarding the ongoing water scarcity issue. Both believe that the government or the higher officials in charge of the water concessionaires should have taken more concrete measures to prevent the water scarcity issue from occurring in the first place. 

As of writing, Maynilad and Manila Water have announced that it might take until September for the water supply in Metro Manila to normalize. The former also released a daily rotational water service interruption schedule, which would start July 10 and would affect barangays of the metro.

Ryan Lim

By Ryan Lim

Kent Regalado

By Kent Regalado

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