Securing the future of watersheds

ONE MAY think that the burden of ensuring the city’s water security rely on the  government or environmental advocacy groups, but  ordinary citizens play the biggest role in the conservation efforts.

Our every action impacts heavily on these watersheds, from the smallest of actions like planting trees of throwing that candy wrapper in the waste basket, or on to bigger actions like being vigilant in insulating waterways from agri-industrial chemicals. All these refuse and residue end up, one way or the other, into the water we drink.

file photo by bing gonzales

Watersheds refer to areas wherein waters systems, such as rivers or lakes, converge then trickle into other smaller water systems which can be a source of drinkable water.

These watersheds, mostly located upland in heavily forested areas, also serve as vital ecosystems for different kinds of flora and fauna that rely on the delicate ecology to thrive.

Issues faced

The Environmental Management Bureau of DENR said that coliform formation downstream of the Davao River continues to be a problem, and at 16 million mpn (most probable number) per 100 milliliters (ml) of coliform comprising human, animal, industrial, and agricultural waste, has surpassed the safe limit of 1,000 mpn per 100ml of sampled water, according to last year’s data.

Ma. Soccoro Mallare, in an interview with TIMES, said this was due to the continuing increase of informal settlers along the riverbanks whose waste disposal practices have ‘still not changed,’ and projects coliform levels downriver and upstream to continue to rise if attitudes and hygienic practices do not improve.

“Laws like the waste disposal ordinance and septage law can only go so far, attitudes and practices of the residents really have to change,” she added.

Apart from this, the Davao City Water District said cutting down large areas of trees to make way for housing developments, such as those in Cabantian, also impact on the city’s watersheds by decreasing the ‘recharge areas’, where water trapped by trees can be absorbed back as groundwater that can be tapped for use, forcing DCWD to maximize use of its existing reservoirs elsewhere.

Residents reported that there is also ongoing quarrying at Tamugan in Marilog, and in Jade Valley, Tigatto, said Mary Anne Fuertes, executive director for Interface Development Interventions, a member of the Watershed Management Council.

In fact, if nothing is done, our watershed will only last for the next 30 years.

Bernard Delima, DCWD spokesperson, said the projection was based on a study conducted in Dumoy area, which supplies 75% of the city’s water needs, and the planned utilization of the Tamugan river by 2019.

“So far, the water in Dumoy is in healthy supply. We have 37 production wells in the area, but there are also numerous private extractors,” said Delima.

Data from DCWD also stated that the city is projected to increase its demand to 164 million cubic meters of water yearly, and they are currently only at a 112.9 million capacity.

DCWD said there needs to be at least 36 more wells put up by the year 2031 to keep up with the demand.

There is also a need to strengthen the government’s support to Bantay Bukid volunteers, who monitor cases of illegal logging and other violators of environmental law in the hinterlands.

WMC action

While issues old and new continue to hound stakeholders of the WMC, Fuertes assured that consultations with all concerned parties, especially the communities, were continuing.

In a text message, she added the WMC will meet again on Sept. 17 to iron out the issues and recommendations that came up in the annual Watershed Summit last Aug. 24-25, which will become the basis of the WMC’s 2017- 2019 plans and programs.

Fuertes said the cooperation between government and civil society actors with concerns to the environment, as well as engagement with the communities affected, are a positive step in addressing, and ultimately answering, the problems that threaten Davao’s water sources and ecological sites.