Heavy rainfall flooded Metro Manila streets on Aug. 2 but helped assuage the water supply shortage caused by the large demand of the growing population and a prolonged dry spell this year.
Data from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration show that the water level at Angat Dam, which supplies 96 percent of water requirements in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces, exceeded 167 meters in the morning of Aug. 3, above the 160-meter critical level but still below the “normal high” water level of 210 meters.
Ferdinand dela Cruz, the 52-year-old president and chief executive of east zone concessionaire Manila Water Company, says 99 percent of the company’s customers are now enjoying “24×7 water availability at the ground floor”. Manila Water achieved this by tapping another source of potable water—Laguna de Bay.
Angat Dam in Bulacan province which supplies 4,000 million liters per day to Metro Manila, Rizal and Cavite was constructed in 1967. This means that over the past 42 years, households and establishments were fully dependent on Angat Dam for their water needs.
As the El Niño dry spell pulled down the water level at Angat Dam this year, the two concessionaires of Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System—Manila Water on the east side and Maynilad Water Services Inc. on the west side—were forced to implement water rationing at certain hours during the dry months.
Under the 1997 concession agreements, the east zone of Manila Water led by the Ayala Group receives an allocation of 1,600 MLD or 40 percent of the total while Maynilad Water now controlled by Metro Pacific gets 2,400 MLD or the balance of 60 percent.
The administration of former President Fidel Ramos ordered the privatization of the water distribution business of MWSS to pay off the agency’s $800-million debt, replace the old pipe network, improve the piped water service coverage and reduce the excessive leakage or non-revenue water level which represented more than half of the total water supply in the 1990s.
As water supply ran thin during this year’s dry months, Manila Water experienced an average supply deficit of 150 MLD as total demand of its 6 million customers reached 1,750 MLD, exceeding its allocation of only 1,600 MLD.
In response, Manila Water invested in new water sources and opened the Cardona Water Treatment Plant on March 14, 2019.
The facility draws water from the central portion of Laguna de Bay and now delivers more than 60 MLD of water to Rizal towns. The treatment plant will operate at its full capacity of 100 MLD later this month. It is supported by 45 kilometers of transmission lines and 61 kilometers of distribution lines. At full capacity, it can deliver potable water to about 800,000 people in the east zone.
Unlike other treatment facilities that draw water from Angat Dam, the Cardona WTP employs a more rigorous and complex treatment process and equipment to treat the diverse quality of water from Laguna Lake. The process includes treatment for suspended solids, organic matter, algae and dissolved solids.
“Our Cardona Water Treatment Plant can now produce up to 63 MLD and will reach 100 MLD capacity this August,” says dela Cruz, who graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He also took the Advance Management Program at Harvard Business School.
Manila Water also operates more than 100 deep wells to augment its supply. “Our deep well capacity is now at around 60 MLD,” says dela Cruz. He says the reduction in system losses or non-revenue water to 7.5 percent in July from 12 percent in March translated into another 70 to 74 MLD of recovered supply. The NRW level before the privatization of water distribution was 63 percent.
“We have also installed 65 line boosters in our distribution network to reach our customers located at high elevation or at the end of our network,” says dela Cruz, who joined Manila Water in July 2011.
Prior to heading Manila Water, Dela Cruz worked for major companies such as Globe Telecom, Kraft Foods (Philippines) Inc., Ayala Land Inc., San Miguel Brewing Philippines, Inbisco Philippines and Unilever Philippines.
Dela Cruz says putting water distribution in the hands of the private sector has significantly improved the level of services. “Privatization has significantly improved the services over the past 22 years. From 3 million customers, we now serve 6.8 million people. System losses have been reduced from 63 percent to 7.5 percent. Waterborne diseases have been reduced significantly,” he says.
He says that given the growing population and rapidly expanding economy, there is a need to tap new large water sources such as Kaliwa Dam in Quezon province.
“The key issue remains the need for large new water sources to be developed by MWSS to support the growing demand and [minimize] the over-dependence on Angat Dam,” he says. “We need to harness the Laguna Lake more to augment the supply needs of Metro Manila.”
Among the planned water sources projects are the 600-MLD Kaliwa Dam; the 500 MLD Wawa Dam in Rizal province proposed by billionaire Enrique Razon Jr. and Oscar Violago in partnership with Manila Water; the 350-MLD Laguna Bay projects by Maynilad and Manila Water; and the 1,850-MLD “ABC Projects”.
ABC Projects involve maximizing the untapped water and water wastage from Angat Dam; the Bayabas Dam Project in Doña Remedios Trinidad also in Bulacan; and the Candaba Multi-Purpose Impounding Dam in Pampanga.
Dela Cruz says at the consumer level, households and businesses should do their part by observing water conservation especially in the face of global warming.
“We need to implement demand management initiatives to reduce per capita consumption. Responsible use of water should be promoted heavily,” he says.
Dela Cruz says climate change and water security are serious issues that Filipinos need to address collectively. “We should all be prepared to shoulder the additional costs of achieving water security to sustain the progress of Metro Manila and Rizal. All stakeholders need to work together to update and execute a comprehensive and implementable masterplan,” he says.