Water department mulled amid El Niño onset

Malacañang said Tuesday the Duterte administration was considering the creation of a Department of Water to mitigate the effects of El Niño and water shortage in parts of the country, coinciding with official reports an estimated P5.05 billion worth of agricultural crops had been destroyed by the phenomenon.

At the same time, National Grid Corporation of the Philippines again placed the Luzon grid on yellow alert for several hours on Tuesday, the second consecutive day due to insufficient operating reserves amid the forced and unplanned outages of power plants.

NGCP issued the yellow alert notice, which means the reserve power was low, starting from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then at 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.  The yellow alert was lifted at  4 p.m. 

“Please be informed that the Luzon grid is on yellow alert due to insufficient operating reserve,” it said.

The Luzon grid’s system capacity was placed at 10,985 megawatts yesterday versus demand of 10,267 MW.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte and his Cabinet discussed plans to address the recurring dry spell in the country.

“A roadmap was presented, which included immediate, medium and long-term interventions, such as making an intensive campaign for the conservation of water and energy,” Panelo said.

According to Panelo, the roadmap shown included the plans to “create a Department of Water and a Department of Disaster Resilience.”

“[There are also plans of] dredging waterways, replacing tunnels and aqueducts, installing water tank systems in all Department of Health hospitals, and providing funding for the establishment of water treatment plants,” Panelo said.

DA’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Operations Center said agricultural damage went up from P4.35 billion to P5.05 billion.

Production losses due to drought and dry spell ate up an estimated volume of 276,568 metric

tons of rice and corn from 233,007 metric tons recorded on March 31.

Of the total 177,743 hectares affected by El Niño, 164,672 farmers were severely hit.

In another 149,914 hectares, at least 138,859 farmers were affected.

As far as the rice sector is concerned, the loss/damage was estimated at P2.69 billion with 125,590 metric tons volume production loss, 111,851 hectares, and 108,845 farmers affected in 37 provinces.

For corn, the losses were pegged at P2.36 billion with 150,978 metric tons volume production loss, 65,892 hectares, and 55,827 farmers affected in 17 provinces.

El Niño ruined Caraga Region, Abra, Apayao, Ifugao, Kalinga, Mt. Province, Ilocos, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Bulacan, Batangas, Laguna, Rizal, Quezon, Occidental Mindoro, Albay, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Masbate, Aklan, Antique, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Biliran, Leyte, Northern Samar, Samar, Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Norte, Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, Davao del Sur, Cotabato, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao.

The government was able to extend P95.875-million financial assistance from Agricultural Credit Policy Council under the survival and recovery assistance program for 3,835 affected farmers.

“The processing of documents for areas declared under a state of calamity due to El Niño (Rizal, Occidental Mindoro, Zamboanga City, Zamboanga Sibugay, Cotabato, Maguindanao, Negros Occidental) are ongoing,” the Agriculture department said.

In addition, the Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. provided 3,534 affected farmers in Regions 1, 3, 4A, 6 and 10 with P43.083 million of insurance.

At least P18.3 million was allotted for cloud seeding operations to the Philippine Air Force and regional field office.

“A minimum area of 23,293 hectare have been saved due to the 7,700 units of pump and engine sets distributed between 2017 and 2018 with an equivalent production volume of 90,100 metric tons of palay amounting to P1.53 billion,” the Agriculture department said. 

Officials said the yellow alert was raised due to the insufficient reserves brought about by high system demand and the forced outage of power plants totaling 1,1647 MW.

Other plants that went offline are Pagbilao 3 (420 MW), Masinloc 2 (344 MW), Pagbilao 1 (382 MW), SLTEC 1 (150 MW) and Malaya 2 (350 MW).

There are also power plants that were derated or had been operating below capacity: Calaca 2 at 200 MW from 300 MW AND SLPGC 2 at 100 MW from 150 MW. 

Meanwhile, Calaca 1 (300 MW) is still on a scheduled outage maintenance until June.

The Department of Energy said it was coordinating with the power industry players to ensure the delivery of electricity to consumers. 

This includes the facilitation of incoming plants that are undergoing commissioning and testing, such as Masinloc 3 for Luzon and Therma Visayas 2 for the Visayas.

Power distributor Manila Electric Co. had earlier assured its customers that when there is a shortage of power supply, participants of the interruptible load program can deload from the grid and use their generating sets.

“In case of supply deficiency, corporations and commercial establishments participating under the ILP program are ready to use their generator sets to help prevent/minimize incidents of power outage,” Meralco said.

 As this developed, Laban Konsyumer Inc. called for more transparency from ERC and DOE regarding plant outages and power situation. The group asked for daily updates on the status of power plants so that consumers can monitor the power situation of the grid on a daily basis. 

LKI president Vic Dimagiba highlighted the need for information regarding the white, yellow, and red alert statuses.

The group suggested that “more capacity or supply should bring down power rates for consumers. If we do not address this problem now, distribution utilities will be forced to buy higher-priced power from the spot market. 

“If there is more supply, there is less pressure for rates to go higher, especially during the summer months,” he said.

Dimagiba said there should be contingency plans in place for unscheduled outages due to technical problems and /or force majeure. 

“We observed that there is where the problem occurs, when there is a sudden, simultaneous shutdown of power plants and the prices in the spot market go up,” he said.

Dimagiba added that LKI is highly concerned about distribution utilities that may have to source additional power leading to the summer months and midterm elections. 

He said simultaneous, prolonged power plant outages, coupled with rising demand due to warmer temperature and election-related activities will possibly lead to higher rates for power consumers. 

Power rates historically go up at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market, the country’s trading floor of electricity, during summer months because of the tightness in supply.

“All stakeholders should meet to ensure there is adequate and reliable supply during summer and midterm elections and to ensure minimal impact on consumers,” Dimagiba said.

During a Palace press briefing on March 18, Panelo thumbed down the proposal previously suggested by Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia to establish a Department of Water following a water crisis.

According to Pernia, the department, once established, would be able to centralize all government efforts, including the management of water resources and distribution of water supply, to guarantee water sufficiency and avoid a future shortage.

The National Economic and Development Authority chief earlier blamed the crisis for the supposed fragmentation of agencies involved in handling the country’s water needs.

Panelo, however, shot down Pernia’s proposal, surmising that its creation was not “needed” as water concessionaires involved in the insufficiency of water supply were already finding ways to address the problem.

Sought for a comment on his previous remark about its creation, Panelo said his opinion would no longer matter as Duterte’s alter-egos already discussed its proposed establishment.

“Maybe it will be changed. Since they discussed it last night, it seemed okay [to them],” he said in a Palace press briefing Tuesday, noting that the Department of Water would not “add to the bureaucracy.”

“There would be a council to ensure that all would meet one way,” Panelo said, maintaining that his previous remark describing the Department as “unnecessary” was just his “personal opinion” and not the official stance of the Palace.

In the Senate, a bill seeking the establishment of a Department of Water, Irrigation, Sewage, and Sanitation Resource Management, aiming to “manage and protect the country’s water resources,” is still pending before the lawmakers.

READ: Senators urge gov’t to adopt climate resiliency measures

Meanwhile, aside from the creation of two departments and a roadmap to alleviate El Niño-related problems, the NEDA also presented the proposed executive order to enhance the National Water Resources Board.

According to Panelo, NEDA Undersecretary Adoracion Navarro presented a draft EO to “transform and strengthen” the NWRB.

“The EO will merge the NWRB and the River Basin Control Office into the National Water Management Council. This will streamline and consolidate planning and regulation of all water and river basins in the country. It will also draft a National Water Management Framework Plan,” Panelo said.

Last month, hundreds of thousands of Filipino families were affected by a weeklong sudden water shortage after Manila Water, the eastern Metro Manila water provider, issued unannounced water service interruptions in several parts of the country’s capital. The situation, according to them, was done to make operational adjustments as La Mesa Dam’s water level dropped.

The Palace has previously maintained that an executive order was underway to address the present and future water crisis in parts of the country.

The 36th Cabinet meeting, which Panelo described as “serious and productive,” happened on Monday evening.

READ: Heat is on, it’s dry season

READ: Angat water level fast going down, PAGASA warns

Topics: Duterte administration , Department of Water , El Niño phenomenon , National Grid Corporation of the Philippines
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