The decades of neglect of the country’s dams and other water infrastructure has led to the severe flash floods that hit Cagayan and Isabela.
This was stressed by Senator Imee Marcos as she expressed belief that the government may have learned to prepare in advance but fell short of the magnitude of disaster.
“The 38-year-old Magat Dam and other old dams have not been upgraded in decades, their surrounding watershed forests have been denuded, and hence Magat would have collapsed under the deluge of Typhoon Ulysses if water was not released,” said Marcos.
“The cycle of calamity, panic and suffering will continue unless we improve our water infrastructure,” the senator added.
Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, is filing a bill that aims to upgrade the country’s water facilities and resources and reorganize their management amid the challenges of population growth and climate change.
“The water crisis will be the crisis of coming decades: flooding, shortages, the need for rainwater harvest infrastructure management. It’s urgent we grapple with the challenges ASAP,” Marcos said.
With a population of about 12 million and still growing, Metro Manila will be needing a water supply larger than what the 52-year-old Angat Dam can provide, Marcos explained.
“In recent years, we have experienced water rationing which can be aggravated by greater sanitation needs during pandemics like Covid-19,” Marcos added.
Besides the upgrading of dams, Marcos wants to revive flood control projects like the unfinished Parañaque Spillway conceived in the 70’s and the dredging of Laguna Lake aborted in 2011, both of which could mitigate flooding in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces.
Marcos also said the country can take advantage of typhoons by creating more rain harvesting facilities that will not only reduce flooding but also increase the supply of non-potable water for agricultural irrigation, fish farming, and urban sanitation.
Less than 10% of rainfall in the country is harvested, with most of it draining toward the sea, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).
“We also need to build more infrastructure, like the Candaba Viaduct built way back in 1976, that are elevated above swamps and flood-prone areas to prevent the interruption of supply chains during heavy downpours,” Marcos said.
“It’s high time a Department of Water Management, or some such overarching body with serious clout, be put in place and finally consolidate the 30-plus odd plethora of national bodies in the DENR, DAR, DPWH, MWSS, NWB, et cetera, not to speak of the innumerable local water boards,” Marcos concluded.