PAOAY LAKE. Photo shows the serene Paoay lake blighted by high fecal coliform, according to the Jan. 24, 2022 letter of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the Ilocos Norte government. A portion of the lake is being developed as a waterpark. (File photo by Leilanie G. Adriano)

LAOAG CITY – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has recommended an extensive cleanup drive around Paoay Lake before its new waterpark "inflatable island" can be fully enjoyed by visitors.

This was contained in the January 24, 2022 letter of the DENR Regional Executive Director Crizaldy Barcelo addressed to Ilocos Norte Gov. Matthew Joseph Manotoc, referring to the January 28 expected launching of the waterpark, covering an area of 4,200 square meters of the 387-hectare lake.

The DENR letter was received by the governor's office on Wednesday.

Based on the water quality monitoring report and results of laboratory analysis conducted at the Paoay Lake on January 21, it showed that the lake water is highly contaminated with E. coli bacteria exceeding the "standard for Class C waters" and not fit for swimming.

E. coli are bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals.

The presence of the bacteria ranging from 5,400 mpn (most probable number) in one sampling station to 160,000 mpn in another station means “the area is good for fishing and boating only", provincial environment and natural resources officer Victor Dabalos told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Wednesday.

While the Ilocos Norte government may still proceed with the January 28 "ceremonial launching" of the waterpark, the DENR has recommended that "the use of the facilities that involves human contact with the lake water shall be deferred until such time that the fecal coliform levels have been reduced to meet the DENR standards."

As of this posting, the Ilocos Norte government has yet to make an official statement regarding the contamination problem at the lake.

In Paoay town, municipal environment officer James Galano said Thursday they have set a meeting with government authorities to discuss the findings and provide solutions.

Among the DENR’s recommendations to reduce the lake’s contamination levels is for the local government unit of Paoay to conduct an inventory of households particularly on the number of bottomless septic tanks within 100 meters off the perimeter of the Paoay Lake shore and to institute measures to address domestic sewage.

While local government authorities earlier succeeded to get rid of the numerous fish cages, poultry and piggery around the lake, communities there are also discouraged to raise livestock and graze animals around the lakeshore.

The DENR is also looking at the establishment of a sewerage and septage management program of the Paoay government in close coordination with the Department of Health and the Department of Public Works and Highways to reduce sources of domestic pollution that goes to the lake.

Since 2010, the provincial government has started working on promoting the lake as a venue for water sports activities until the pandemic struck the country.

The development of "new normal attractions” such as the establishment of the lake waterpark is just one of the many ongoing projects of the Ilocos Norte government to revive its ailing tourism industry due to movement restrictions brought about by the worldwide pandemic.

The lake is also a favorite spot for picnics and birdwatching during the cold spell when migratory birds from Asian countries flock to the lake to seek temporary shelter. (PNA)