Today is World Water Day. Time to ask, yet again, what is the state of Philippine waters today? has water for drinking and household use in particular improved in quality and quantity? to what extent is the improvement this year?
This year, let’s cite as an example a water resource closer to home. Bued River. That portion forming the boundary between Rosario, La Union and Sison, Pangasinan both connected by the Agat Bridge.
The River, technically a system says the DENR, spans 31 kilometers originating in Baguio City (covering 25 of it’s barangays including Camp John Hay reservation), and runs downstream following Kennon Road toward the two Benguet municipalities of Itogon and Tuba, then to La Union (Rosario) and Pangasinan, and finally draining into Lingayen Gulf. The River forms part of the Bued River Watershed as well as the Agno River Water Basin. It’s recently been declared by the DENR as a Water Quality Management Area (WQMA). As an WQMA, the resource is managed by a governing board chaired by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the DENR hence assured institutional support for quality management. In fact, there’s a 10-year management plan on this.
Still, the River is a disaster. From Baguio City, on Kennon Road, approaching the police station, the air reeks of foul-smelling hog waste already a signature scent the entire way and has inadvertently replaced the soothing smell of pines. The smell is so offensive at times that it makes you want to throw up right where you are. What does this imply? Hog raisers are not complying to required sanitation measures (and nobody from the LGUs are checking and sanctioning). How and where do all that amount of hog poop disposed of day in and out, year in and out? Biology tells us that there is no wastage in nature, that everything is recycled, meaning, whatever’s put into and dissolved in the waters of the River eventually find their way back to us, into our guts and bloodstream. I therefore recommend that V/VIPs particularly decision-makers and policy-makers going up or coming down Baguio City to give their car air-conditioning a rest, open their windows (or, get out of the perfumed air of their cars), and smell the roses outside. It’s the easiest, quickest, and no-cost way to get to know local issues first hand (as compared to time-consuming convening of Governors and Mayors and spending public money on copious amounts of overpriced coffee that has zero effect on initiative). If shit is what enters their noses, then, well, they should know what to do next.
But if they don’t trust their own sense of smell, they could read up on a study about the River: GIS Application for Local Governance and Accountability in Environmental Protection: The Case of Bued River authored by Engr. Nathaniel Vincent A. Lubrica of the University of the Cordilleras. The research was published in the University’s research journal Tangkoyob (Volume 7, No.1, October 2013). Alternatively, a video summary is posted on Youtube,
The River has been a subject of contention even in the 20s and renewed conservation since the 70s. It’s 2018 and we’re now witnessing a vast gray desert of sorts especially in that Rosario-Sison area. A River without it’s water. The ominous heat reflecting from it’s excavated bed is such that it could dry up unprotected corneas (open your windows to know). Once, as I was riding a jeepney along the Bridge, two elderly women next to me were clucking their tongues and reminiscing how the River has turned out into “this desert” and how “scary (it is) to imagine the scenario ten years from now”. Indeed. The effect and impact of this desertification is presently felt in the areas covered by and reliant on the Bued River Watershed. Lack of supply. Water wars.
In my new place, water is a very, very scarce resource it’s scary. The community had come to a point in which they appointed a lawyer to administer over the community water system because relative to the barangay officials “he knows what to do”. I’m told that serious fighting over access to the supply have previously broken out among the otherwise peace-loving residents. Apparently acute lack of water does that. I’m just really lucky that this lawyer is my neighbor (so that if I’ve run out of stored water I could just yell from the bathroom for the valve to please be opened. Ha ha. But seriously it does help a lot if one has access, directly or indirectly). Otherwise there’s a deepwell at my place powered by a jetmatic pump but it has stopped working due to the previous renters’ negligence (what irresponsibility given the water situation). My friends from Baguio City promised to come over and repair it. In the meantime, if worse comes to worst, and I hope it won’t come to that, we could go over my aunt’s farm, ten minutes walk away to the neighboring barangay, where there’s flowing supply of clean water (we’ve tried drinking from straight without getting upset stomachs) from a hand-pumped deepwell. Such a contrast.
It’s the sustained and increasingly extensive mining and quarrying of the River. Like, termites slowly but surely eating away at a house and destroying it. But far worse than termites these mindless humans in question have not re-planted even just one tree to mitigate their exploitative activities.
I’m not going to delve into the science of how these activities over time change the working of the River system not to mention it’s effect on the local climate because, well, it would be good as another article. But, the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) position in 2011 frames the argument succinctly (bold phrases mine for emphasis),
NIA’S POSITION ON THE EFFECT OF QUARRYING ALONG THE BUED RIVER DOWNSTREAM OF SAN FABIAN DAM
Strongly supported by NIA’S more than forty years of invaluable experience in the operation of the San Fabian Irrigation System and considering the historical facts of the Bued River and backed by our technical assessment of the various phenomena that took place in the area and its effect on the San Fabian diversion dam, the Regional Manager and Staff of the National Irrigation Administration firmly believe and state that:
a. The lowering of the riverbed is the main reason for the damage and collapse of the old diversion dam. This is perceptible by examining the old and latest design of the dam whereby the downstream apron is typically set at riverbed elevation or lower. In the original design of the dam, the downstream elevation was then at 51.00 but needs to be lowered to 47.5 or 3.50 Meter below for stability and hydraulic considerations in the 2009 dam design.
b. The lowering of the riverbed is greatly affecting the delivery and application of diverted water for irrigation because of deep percolation due to a much lower water table. This is manifested by the diminishing irrigated area from 2,765 has. In the 1970’ s to a mere 1,144 has. even during the wet crop season since 1994 to present.
c. The more than 4.5 meters difference of elevation from the downstream apron to about One (1) kilometer of the Bued river near the quarry site is causing the slope of the river to become steeper thus increasing the velocity of flood water. Stronger current carries more sediments and scouring the embankment and nearby farmlands as they are made of finer and erodible materials.
d. The existence of sandbar in the middle of the river is causing the shifting of fiercer water current towards the western embankment thus the erosion of farmlands and houses at the same time scouring the riverbed.
e. To stop further the lowering of riverbed no quarrying is allowed downstream of the dam. This is to allow the river to negate the effect of retrogression and extensive quarrying, i.e., to replenish the extracted materials downstream of the dam up to the mouth of the river until such time that more gentle and more stable slope shall have been attained.
What do our laws say about mining and quarrying? These activities are supported under certain conditions (bold phrases mine for emphasis):
RA 7942 Section 19 Areas Closed to Mining Applications
b. Near or under public or private buildings, cemeteries, archaeological and historic sites, bridges, highways, waterways, railroads, reservoirs, dams or other infrastructure projects, public or private works including plantations or valuable crops, except upon written consent of the government agency or private entity concerned;
d. In areas expressedly prohibited by law;
Section 79(a) DENR Administrative Order No. 2010-21
No extraction, removal and/or disposition of materials shall be allowed within a distance of one (1) kilometer from the boundaries of reservoirs established for public water supply, archaeological and historical sites or of any public or private works or structures, unless the prior clearance of the Government agency(ies) concerned or owner is obtained.
3) Mining including quarrying is not allowed in areas categorized as No-Go Zones pursuant to the pertinent provisions of RA No. 7942 and EO No. 79. Beaches (within 2 meters from the mean low tide), foreshore areas (within 500 meters from the mean low tide), and river banks including the mandated buffer zone pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 17 and the Water Code of the Philippines are No-Go Zones.
Elementary students given adequate explanation would understand these provisions so what in them isn’t clear to the adults? It’s the set ways of adults regardless of whether these are right or wrong. Like their set ways in urinating and spitting in public. Or, unsanitary disposal of garbage. But citing old dogs can’t be taught new tricks isn’t an excuse before the law. In fact, the case of the Bued River degradation is a prime example for public litigation under Writ of Kalikasan. The inadequate and polluted water supply (not to mention the worsening heat as there’s no flowing water to absorb or store heat energy, food insecurity and loss of incomes as a result of diverted irrigation water) in the affected communities in the four provinces is an outcome of the River’s and it’s watershed’s deterioration (in fact, wala na ngang River to speak of) that has resulted from continued defiance of quarrying (and mining) laws.
Imagine the extent by which a handful of enterprises were able to negatively transform the nature of a water resource and consequently affected thousands of lives. Hello DENR, was it you who said human survival depends on clean water? How could local governments just sit there and watch without regard the desertification of an invaluable resource that’s in their own front yards? Where is rule of law in the few enjoying financial returns from third party use of a public good at the expense of the majority owner? And everybody should stop pointing at the changing climate for this destruction.