LETTERS FROM DAVAO

By Jun Ledesma

LET’S leave the issue of Scarborough now that we knew former Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III and his ilks abandoned it and all this time they had taken us for a ride. Instead, let’s delve into another subject more important than the sea west of the Philippines and south of China. Potable water. I chose this subject because it impacts not only people but various industries as well. 

A vital and indispensable need of man is water and Davao City is twice blessed.  For years, the city gets its potable water from its aquifers. This rich resource is being recharged by the watersheds of Mt. Talomo and  Mt. Apo. The sparkling water from these underground sources ranks as the second-best in the world. And because of the city’s dynamic population and industrial growth, the Davao City Water District pursued its plan in 2014 to tap other alternative sources of water for generations to come. Hopefully, government agencies like Metropolitan Water and Sewerage System, its concessionaires, and other water utilities will absorb lessons from the Davao experience. 

Years back, DCWD Chairman Ed Bangayan sought guidance from then-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who guaranteed the water district the government full support. The plan was to tap the surface water of Tamugan and Panigan located about  70 kilometers west of the city proper at an elevation of nearly 600 meters above sea level. Based on series of tests the quality of the water that flows from the twin rivers is similar to that of the aquifers. 

Having estimated that the cost of the project could easily run to billions and reputed to be the biggest single investment in Davao, the DCWD Board of Directors decided to issue a nationwide invitation to bidders interested in undertaking the Bulk Water Project.  Under a Swiss challenge mode of procurement or bidding J. V. Angeles Construction Corp. (JVACC), the country’s triple AAA construction firm in the field of water infrastructure development was given the award. Given the enormity of the cost of the project, however,  JVACC partnered with Aboitiz Equity Ventures.  Rounding up all the costs the project was finally placed at ₱12.5-billion.  It is the first and the biggest bulk water project in the country. Together, JVACC and AEV formed  Apo Agua Infrastructura, Inc. (Apo Agua). 

BWP is undertaken by DCWD and Apo Agua in a  joint venture agreement that was signed and witnessed by President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte.  Apo Agua was to build the weir, de-siltation complex, and a mini-hydro powerplant along Tamogan river, water treatment, and laboratory facilities. These critical infrastructures are all in the finishing touches. A major job of laying down gigantic main water distribution pipes towards each of the off-take-points of DCWD scattered all over the current and expansion areas in the City is in full gear. All these are being undertaken by JVACC. The OTPs are steel reservoirs which, along with the replacements of old and small pipes, were carried out by DCWD and had been completed. 

Based on the joint venture agreement Apo Agua will deliver 300-million liters of treated water per day to DCWD. That volume of water is only 30% of the total estimated volume of Tamugan and Panigan. A lot more to spare for future generations plus the immense reserve of underground water in the city’s aquifers, DCWD Board Chairman Bangayan proudly expounded. Delivery of water from the treatment complex to DCWD’s reservoirs is by gravity which translates to an estimated savings of ₱450-million a year, an amount spent presently by the water utility in pumping out groundwaters from its production wells. There is no indication the water utility will increase its rate despite the fact that it has been given the authority to adjust this 10 years ago.  DCWD is the only service entity in Davao City which has held on to its rates while power and communication firms had increased theirs a couple of times.“Adopt a Tree” program instituted by DCWD gained tremendous support from local businessmen. Thousands of indigenous trees were planted in bald mountains in the watershed areas which, to date, had already matured. 

The massive pipe-laying activities, some of which run parallel to roads, are a hassle to motorists but will not last long.  Warning signs and all the safety and security measures are in place. City Councilor Pilar Braga, the author of the Water Code of Davao City,  expressed optimism the bulk water project will be done on or before the end of the year. She took note of the construction frenzy as JVACC fielded several crews that total to over 5,000 workers complete with an array of equipment in various barangays in the three districts of the city. 

Braga is overwhelmed. She said that DCWD’s decision to tap the surface water of Tamugan and Panigan will give the city aquifers rest and be refilled. She had earlier warned of possible intrusion of saline water if over-extraction continuous like what happened in Cebu and elsewhere. It is noteworthy that almost two decades ago, DCWD already mounted a reforestation project in the watershed areas that fed underground waters to the aquifers. Since the utility started to eye the surface water of Tamugan and Panigan as alternate source DCWD also embarked on massive reforestation of Mt. Tipolog which is the protected watershed of the rivers. 

Meanwhile, City Mayor Inday Sara said that she has already alerted the Watershed Management Council to strictly monitor unauthorized development in the protected watershed areas that serve as the recharge zones for the city aquifers and the twin rivers. RZs are immensely important to the sources of potable water because any pollution in the recharge zone can also permeate the aquifer. This important issue is clear to the water consumers, city officialdom, DCWD, and Apo Agua because  “Water is Life”.

About the Columnist

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Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.