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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Candaba Swamp, converging rivers submerged Bulacan and Pampanga

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Parts of Bulacan and Pampanga have experienced great flood since time immemorial. The overflows have shaped the lives of people living in these Central Luzon plains for ages, and have made the lands fertile.

So when heavy rain submerged several towns of Bulacan and Pampanga two weeks ago, residents of the provinces shrugged it off—it was business as usual.

Two mighty rivers—Pampanga River and Angat River—cross Bulacan and Pampanga and empty into Manila Bay. Commerce and trade had flourished along the banks of the waterways in the olden days. Ferries had transported people and goods to as far as Manila.

Overflows from Pampanga River had inundated several towns in the 50s and 60s until the government built dikes to prevent flooding. The nearby Candaba Swamp receives the excess water and stores it. But the swamp overflows, too, and floods towns along its fringes, as well as municipal and national roads—and expressways.

The 32,000 hectare Candaba swamp had turned briefly into an ocean expanse after heavy monsoon rain poured over Luzon and the rest of the Philippines. The swamp’s water obviously rose high enough to submerge every vegetation thriving in the area.

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The water of Angat River also exceeds its banks and floods towns along its route during a strong typhoon and heavy rain. The waterway snakes through the municipalities of Doña Remedios Trinidad, Norzagaray, Angat, Bustos, San Rafael, Baliwag, Plaridel, Pulilan, Calumpit, Paombong and Hagonoy.

The town of Calumpit, as we saw on television and read in newspapers, appeared to have suffered the brunt of the heavy heavy rain. This is not surprising. The Pampanga River and Angat River traverse through Calumpit. Angat River joins the Pampanga River at Calumpit through Bagbag River, making Calumpit a natural basin for floodwaters coming from Nueva Ecija and Pampanga.

NLEX fix

Overflows from the Candaba Swamp, Pampanga River and Angat River two weeks ago spilled over to several towns. Part of the water seeped into a small portion the North Luzon Expressway, causing a traffic buildup that stretched to as long as 22 kilometers on both sides.

A tiny flooded portion of the NLEX along the San Simon stretch approaching the Tulaoc Bridge had stalled hundreds of vehicles. Heavy rain and river overflows flooded the tiny stretch and rendered it impassable for some small cars and vehicles.

The floodwater had risen to as high as 40 cm or almost 16 inches, forcing traffic at some point to stop. It’s one nightmare for motorists. It took travelers two to six hours to navigate the San Fernando-San Simon stretch on the southbound road, and the Pulilan-San Simon stretch on the other side. The travel time on this road strip normally takes just 10 to 15 minutes.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was alarmed over the highway logjam when he recently visited the flooded areas in Pampanga. And presumably briefed by engineers of NLEX Corp., the operator of the toll road, Marcos surmised that heavy and continuous rain brought about by the two typhoons caused the flooding of a small part of the highway.

Metro Pacific Tollways Corp. (MPTC) president and former Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio “Babes” Singson vowed to fix the problem in the San Simon segment to avoid floods in the future.

A 200-meter segment of the expressway under the Tulaoc overpass road (not the Tulaoc river bridge as reported in most of the media) rests on low ground that has to be elevated, according to Singson.

NLEX Corp., a unit of MPTC, committed to fix that San Simon segment, with the Department of Public Works and Highways agreeing to raise Tulaoc overpass road.

NLEX Corp. says it will elevate the San Simon portion by 0.7 meter, or 2.3 feet, and leave a clearance of 4.5 meters for the trucks. The job will require the DPWH to first jack up the overpass road by the same 0.7 meter. NLEX Corp. promised to finish its own repair in three months.

Singson also proposed for the government to build a water impounding facility in the Candaba Swamp to avoid another flooding in the San Simon segment of NLEX. Under his proposal, the government can purchase around 200 hectares of swamp land for the water impounding area to prevent flooding in nearby and low-lying areas.

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