By Reynaldo V. Velasco
PRIOR to the MWSS privatization, water supply coverage was around 67 percent and water loss was 63 percent. Water was only available 16 hours daily and there was only 26 percent water pressure. There was minimal septage treatment and no septage treatment plant. Only some areas in Metro Manila had sewerage facilities with most establishments using their own communal septic tanks.
When that eventual privatization of MWSS came in 1997 instigated by our former president, Fidel V. Ramos which was “a master stroke of a genius,” we were able to achieve a total serviced area, now at 97 percent, as well as reduced unaccounted-for water by our concessionaires—at 11 percent by Manila Water and 29 percent by Maynilad.
One important aspect and enduring effect of the successful legal framework of the PPP between MWSS and the concessionaires, Maynilad and Manila Water, is the fact that these two water partners have shared their best practices to other parts of the country and also our Asean neighbors like Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, and more recently, Thailand.
When I assumed as MWSS administrator on Feb. 20, 2017, I immediately put into place the water security program, which forms part of the legacy projects of the Duterte administration.
This water security program, aside from protecting physical water infrastructure, embraces programs that yield water sustainability. Construction for alternative water sources are vigorously pursued under the administration’s Build Build Build Program with greater complementation of the different modes of financing infrastructure projects—locally-funded, foreign assisted, and projects under the PPP.
The program has also adopted the policy of a 24/7 work schedule for major infrastructure projects to fast track program implementation. Better governance, policy and regulatory ensuring availability of right-of-way and streamlining processes in the issuance of permits necessary to implement projects.
These include the following:
• Angat Dam and Dyke Strengthening Project which ensures the safety and reliability of the Angat Dam and Dyke, the main source of water for Metro Manila from geological and hydro-meteorological hazards;
• Kaliwa Dam Project, an alternative for the Angat Dam which is expected to deliver an additional 600 million liters per day;
• Bulacan Bulk Water Supply Project which is already 74 percent completed, way ahead of schedule—with Stages 1 and 2 covering 13 cities and municipalities; and
• Angat Water Transmission Improvement Project which seeks to improve the reliability and security of raw water through partial rehabilitation of the transmission system from Ipo to La Mesa Dam.
While we have achieved a modicum of success in the efficient delivery of potable water to 97 percent of the people in Metro Manila and its environs, the real challenge we face is on the sewerage and wastewater treatment management systems.
Meanwhile, our concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water have adapted the newest technologies and innovations in their water and wastewater management systems.
Maynilad, under the able leadership of its president Ramoncito Fernandez, operates and maintains three world-class treatment plants. It is currently upgrading its La Mesa Treatment Plant 1 and 2 which involves enhancing the facilities’ treatment capacity, retrofitting structures for improved earthquake resiliency, and automating processes for more reliable operations.
In terms of treating wastewater, Maynilad now maintains and operates 20 wastewater treatment plants from only two before re-privatization—which use the latest technology on sequencing battery reactors, moving bed bio-film reactors, STM aerotors, and conventional activated sludge, enabling them to treat some 542 MLD of wastewater.
Since 2007, a cumulative volume of treated wastewater is 502,140 million liters while 559,857 septic tanks have been cleaned.
Meanwhile, in terms of infrastructure, Manila Water under the inspired leadership of its president Ferdinand dela Cruz, continues to build for the future. One of its more recent project includes the Rizal Province Water Supply Improvement Project (RPWSIP), a water treatment facility capable of treating up to 50 million liters per day of potable water, transmission mainlines and distribution lines.
When it comes to improving efficiency, reliability and sustainability in the water system, Manila Water has also improved its screening system to capture solid wastes efficiently. The company has also procured more efficient equipment such that of screw and turbo blowers suited for water treatment applications.
Excerpts from a July 9, 2018 speech during the Asia International Water Week at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Velasco is the administrator of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System.