Poor quality of Metro water supply feared | Inquirer News

Poor quality of Metro water supply feared

Groups ask Aquino to stop tree-cutting, clearing activities in Ipo Watershed

At a time when reservoirs providing water to Metro Manila are in danger of going dry, a coalition of environmental advocates has exposed  massive tree-cutting and forest-burning activities in a significant watershed in Bulacan province which could affect the water supply for the metropolis.

The University of the Philippines Mountaineers, through its Environment Committee, the Sagip Sierra Madre Environmental Society Inc. and Sagip Kagubatan have jointly asked President Aquino to increase military and police patrols at the Ipo Watershed amid what they called the “rampant and unabated” destruction of the forest cover there.

“We are stepping forward to attest to the rampant and unabated destruction (in the Ipo Watershed) in the hope that military and police intervention [will] be effected to immediately halt the clearing of forest by chainsaws and arson, to restrict the transport and trade of forest products in the protected areas, and to put a stop to the continued settlement and encroachment of illegal settlers in the watershed,” the coalition said in a letter to Aquino dated April 29 and received by Malacañang on May 6.


Attached to the letter were sworn statements, pictures, video footage and infographics from members of the coalition who said they had witnessed firsthand the destruction of about three-quarters of the 6,600-hectare Ipo Watershed due to illegal logging, coal production and forest-burning.


The Inquirer was provided copies of the letter and attachments.

Although many people think that Metro Manila gets its water from La Mesa Dam in Quezon City, Frederick Ochavo of the UP Mountaineers explained that the bulk of the water supply comes from other dams up north.

“We receive only about three percent of our water supply from the La Mesa Dam. The rest of our water comes from three Bulacan watersheds—the Angat and Umiray watersheds which supply us [with] about 81 percent of our water and the Ipo Watershed which [accounts for] 12 percent…,” Ochavo told the Inquirer in an interview.

“The three watersheds are interconnected. Water from Angat flows into Ipo before going to the La Mesa Watershed. The forests in the watershed help prevent silt from building up in the reservoirs, aside from helping store water in the reservoir during the summer. So we should be worried if the Ipo Watershed is being cleared of trees,” he added.

Another signatory to the letter, Bro. Martin Francisco of the Sagip Sierra Madre Environmental Society Inc., said he also witnessed the destruction of the forest in the watershed, which he said worsened in 1997 when management of the protected area was split between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System.

“Suddenly there were no more forest rangers and guards in what is really a protected area. Only the indigenous Dinagat tribe should have been living inside the watershed but because of the lack of protection, outsiders started coming in to live in the watershed,” Francisco said in an interview.


Francisco, who still regularly monitors the situation in the area, said it has worsened over the years.

“Now if you go there, you will see jeepneys coming out of the watershed with planks of wood to be sold in the market. Many others are full of sacks of coal made from burnt trees. The surprising thing is that the guards at the gate there allow them to go out,” he added.

This was backed up by Edwin Sta. Maria of Sagip Kagubatan, another signatory to the letter, who noted that people living inside the watershed were clearing the forest with impunity.

“Once inside, you’ll see large clearings of what used to be vast swaths of forests. You’ll also see smoke rising from burnt cleared fields and charcoal furnaces. These bags of charcoal are sold commonly in Fairview —just go and ask the vendors there,” he said.

Ochavo added that illegal businesses inside the watershed were very organized.

“They have floaters made from tire interiors so they can let cut trees drift from the mountains to the rivers and on to a designated point. The cut wood has markings which we found out indicate who should be paid for the logs,” he said.

Francisco expressed concern that these would all have an impact on the quality of water coming from the watershed.

“Yes, the water is treated before being pumped to our faucets. But it’s added cost to the water companies. And just imagine what the water went through before being processed,” he said.

Francisco added that he has tried countless times to get the DENR and other government agencies and even the water concessionaires in Metro Manila to take action.

The seeming lack of a united government response prompted them to write to the Palace, which they said was already verifying their claims.

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“But if we still don’t get a response from them, we plan to take this issue to the Supreme Court and file a writ of kalikasan to hopefully protect the Ipo Watershed,” he said.

TAGS: dam, Metro, News, water crisis, watershed

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