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Harvesting rain

"I have always wondered why we do not make use of the tons and tons of rainwater that pour from the heavens during our wet season."

As the plane circles Taoyuan before landing at the Taiwan International Airport, one would notice several “lakes” which are actually catch basins for rain water.  Actually you can see these reservoirs, these water impounding basins, all over the island.

Before Davao City had safe and clean water piped into homes and establishments from Dumoy in the late sixties, residents had galvanized iron water tanks connected to their downspouts, which served their water requirements.  Those were the days when forests were still lush, and rain occurred each afternoon until early evening in most parts of Mindanao.

One of the biggest problems of Baguio City is the paucity of water.  In a city that sits on a river delta at the mouth of Agusan River, the water supply that flows into the taps of residents is chancy.  Ironically, when the rains swell the Taguibo River from where the water concessionaire gets its supply, that is when the taps run dry.

When I built my house on the Tagaytay Ridge way back 1977, there was no assurance I would get water from the Tagaytay City Water District, because my lot was about 200 meters from the national highway.  So I had a huge cistern built underneath what was to be my carport and the downspouts of the house were connected to that cistern.

But by 1978, when the house was finished, the water district began laying pipes to my property and the adjoining house owned by a celebrated movie star, so the rainwater collected into my cistern was used for watering the plants and the lawn.

I have always wondered why we do not make use of the tons and tons of rainwater that pour from the heavens during our wet season. These days, for instance, we have torrents of rainfall pounding on rooftops, causing floods and  inundating both urban streets and rural fields.  The water, the precious water, just stays there, waiting for natural evaporation.

When a prolonged El Niño started to dry up Angat Dam, the entire metropolis was in near panic as one of the water concessionaires, Manila Water, started rationing its supply in some parts of its concession area.  Now we are relieved because the rains have come, and Angat as well as La Mesa have leveled up.  But wait for the next drought.

Whenever I pass the Quezon Memorial Circle during a heavy downpour, I always wonder why either the national or local governments have not constructed a huge cistern underneath the Circle to catch all the floodwaters that cover the elliptical road network.

 When heavy rainfall causes landslides in the Cordilleras, the streams and rivulets that feed into the Agno River get swollen, but all that precious water just flows into the sea after traversing Pangasinan. Think of all that water for irrigation.

So much debate has put to a halt the construction of the Kaliwa and Kanan dams, or the Laiban, or whatever else, such as the over-stretched concern for the ancestral domain of indigenous peoples, but what about the needs of millions of our population who need water.  Need we remind everybody that water is life?

We speak of food security, particularly as it concerns rice production.  We keep arguing that the Vietnamese and the Thais studied agriculture at Los Baños, yet they are rice surplus countries from which we now import our staple.  It’s really such an absurd argument.

First there is the impact of our ever-growing population. I keep repeating that our 7,100 islands all comprise 30 million hectares while Thailand’s contiguous whole is all of 51 million hectares.  But on the demand side, we are 110 million mouths to feed versus Thailand’s 68 million.

And then there is water.  It takes 5,000 liters of water to produce a kilogram of rice. Thailand has the Chao Phrya; Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have the Mekong River, even Myanmar has the Irrawady.  Our Cagayan River is long but relatively shallow and narrow.  The Agusan and Rio Grande, Pulangi and Agus in Mindanao are not fully exploited for their irrigation potential.

But this is the worst part:  the number of irrigated ricelands we have has not significantly increased since the time when Ferdinand Marcos was the president.  When Marcos left, 1.4 million hectares were irrigated, some of them built as far back as when Elpidio Quirino was president in the early fifties.  We have added to that just about a hundred thousand hectares.  

I just read a news item about the Commission on Audit taking the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) to explain why some P20 billion of irrigation projects are grinding exceedingly slow.

Add to all these the specter of climate change, the impact of which everyone and his mother have explained to death.

Even the water supply for the paddies of the Indo-Chinese peninsula are in danger. China is building more and more dams, trapping the water that flows from the Tibetan highlands into the mighty Mekong River.  Laos, for its part, is getting both China and Thailand to finance the construction of dam after dam that would produce hydro-electric  power that they would then sell to Thailand.

The geographical fact that China controls the territory in the upland sources presents a potential danger to the low countries.  

So the President in his latest SONA proposes a Department of Water Resource Management, putting together the various agencies that are mandated to manage water supply: the MWSS, the LWUA, the NWRB, and whatever else.

Will the new department finally put direction and create plans that will answer the ever-growing need for water?

Meanwhile, water conversation could be started by local governments, households, and everyone for that matter.

Topics: Lito Banayo , Harvesting rain , water , El Niño
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