El Niño threatens 42 provinces; La Mesa at 21-year low

The weather bureau said Thursday that up to 33 provinces are expected to experience drought by the end of May, among the 42 that will go through a dry spell up to end-March owing to the El Niño phenomenon.

El Niño threatens 42 provinces; La Mesa at 21-year low
LOWEST LEVEL. The El Niño phenomenon has breathed down on La Mesa Dam, built in 1929 and can hold up to 50.5 million cubic meters and occupying an area of 27 square kilometers in Quezon City, has gone down to its lowest level in 21 years at 68.74 meters as of Thursday—from 68.75 meters in 1998. Manny Palmero
Ten provinces are immediately threatened by drought—Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, and Palawan in Luzon and Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Maguindanao and Sulu in Mindanao.

The water elevation at La Mesa Dam, meanwhile, breached its lowest mark in 21 years.

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, the dam’s water level was at 68.74 meters from 68.79 meters.

Sonia Serrano, a weather bureau hydrologist, said the 68.74-meter elevation was at its lowest compared to 1998’s 68.75 meters.

The weather bureau said the reduced amount of rainfall due to a weak El Niño episode would continue to affect the reservoir’s water supply.

Provinces that will experience a dry spell this month are Abra, Benguet, Kalinga, Apayao, Mountain Province, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Bataan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga,Tarlac, Zambales, Metro Manila, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Quezon, Marinduque, Romblon, Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Masbate and Sorsogon in Luzon; 

Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Biliran, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Northern Samar, and  Samar (Western Samar) in Visayas; and Zamboanga del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Norte, and Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao, the weather bureau said.

A dry spell means three consecutive months of below normal rainfall conditions or two consecutive months of way below normal rainfall conditions, wherein average rainfall is reduced by more than 60 percent, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council executive director Ricardo Jalad explained in a press briefing.

By end-May, these provinces will experience drought: Pangasinan, Bataan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Metro Manila, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Quezon, Marinduque, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Romblon, Palawan, Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Masbate, and Sorsogon in Luzon;

Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Biliran, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Northern Samar, and Samar (Western Samar) in Visayas; and Misamis Occidental, Dinagat Islands in Mindanao.

The El Niño phenomenon happens when water in the east equatorial Pacific gets warm while the water in the western Pacific stays cool, lowering the chances of rain, which can lead to dry spell and drought.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said people must brace for the possibility of a severe drought lasting until June.

It cited a decrease in the water elevation of Angat Dam at 199.63 meters, Binga Dam at 572.24 meters and San Roque Dam at 264.79 meters.

The water level at Ipo Dam, however, increased to101.06 meters.

Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System administrator Patrick Ty acknowledged it was the government’s fault that parts of Metro Manila and Rizal province are now experiencing a water shortage.

In an interview with the ANC news channel, Ty said the government has yet to build two dams—Kaliwa and Liaban—to address the growing demand for water from Metro Manila residents because of opposition from indigenous people, squatters, leftist organizations and church groups.

“The Kaliwa Dam [and] Laiban Dam, had been proposed during Marcos’s time. Due to a lot of opposition and accommodations for the IPs ...the project [kept] getting moved,” he said.

The Kaliwa Dam in Quezon province, which can address Metro Manila’s water needs for the next 20 years, was supposed to be built during the Aquino administration, but was again blocked by strong opposition, Ty said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday said consumers and businesses severely affected by the water interruption in Metro Manila and nearby areas may file civil cases against Ayala-owned Manila Water Company Inc.

Guevarra said damage suits may be initiated against the water supply concessionaire to over 6 million people in the east zone of the National Capital Region once the real cause of the water supply problem is established.

“If there is showing of fault or negligence on the part of Manila Water and if it is established that this crisis is caused not by natural causes of force majeure, then affected consumers may file damage suits individually,” Guevarra said in an interview.

Guevarra made the statement as the Senate prepared for an investigation into the water crisis that begins March 19.

Manila Water, which services Metro Manila’s east zone, has cut supply in several areas supposedly because the water level in La Mesa Dam, its emergency source, dropped due to the lack of rain and high demand.

But the service concessionaire for the west zone, Maynilad, has experienced no shortage.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara on Thursday underscored the need for structural reforms in the water industry, noting that some 30 agencies are currently involved in water and sanitation policy,

among them the National Water Resources Board, the Local Water Utilities Administration and the MWSS. This setup, he said, is inefficient, with overlapping jurisdictions. 

In Manila, Mayor Joseph Estrada urged hotels to limit changing water in swimming pools and appealed to car wash businesses to reduce their use of water amid the ongoing shortage.

In Mandaluyong, five barangays were poised to recommend that the city declare a state of calamity due to the water shortage, the city’s information officer, Jimmy Isidro, said.

Officials in these villages will submit resolutions recommending a state of calamity, which Mandaluyong Mayor Carmelita Abalos will forward to the city council, Isidro said in an interview with radio dzMM.

A state of calamity would allow the local government to tap emergency funds.

With no relief in sight, the government urged the public to remain calm, as measures aimed at mitigating the water supply shortage were being considered.

In an inter-agency meeting, member agencies of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Coordinating Council in Camp Aguinaldo adopted remedial plans to cope with the continuing threat posed by the El Niño.

Office of Civil Defense Administrator Ricardo Jalad said that the Angat Dam was still at normal operating levels and sought to allay fears of an imminent water crisis.

“We want to assure the public that the government is doing everything to ensure adequate water supply for all. These agencies present in today’s meeting, especially those working with the water sector will continue to collaborate to provide these needed services to the public,” Jalad said.

“Everyone is encouraged to remain calm, avoid water wastage, and always practice sustainable water management in their respective homes,” Jalad said.

The Interior Department will issue a memorandum to all local government units to enact ordinances curbing illegal connections and encouraging the prudent use of water while allowing water concessionaires and water utilities to conduct emergency repairs to water pipes.

The Palace said the current shortage could be artificial, given the ample amount of reserve water.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo noted that there was no shortage of water in the Angat Dam, which supplies more than 90 percent of Metro Manila’s water.

He said the problem might not be the supply but the distribution.

“It could be just inefficiency, mismanagement. In that case, it’s only an artificial shortage because if the source is full and another concessionaire is also full, why is the other one having problems? That’s the logic there,” Panelo added.

“We are precisely investigating to know exactly what is happening or what’s the cause of the lack of water supply,” Panelo said. With Nat Mariano and Francisco Tuyay

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Topics: El Niño , La Mesa Dam , Ricardo Jalad , Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration , Drought , Salvador Panelo
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