Expert warns vs ‘irreversible impact’ of dam construction

THE P18.7-BILLION Kaliwa Dam project in Quezon province will have an “irreversible impact” on the environment, an expert warned.

The project will include a Kaliwa Low Dam in Tanay, Rizal with a 600 million-liters-a-day (MLD) capacity and a water supply tunnel with 2,400-MLD capacity.
Converting rivers into dams will have “permanent detrimental effects to the entire stretch of the river network,” said freshwater biologist Rey Donne Papa, chairperson of UST’s Biological Sciences department.

“The area where they plan to put up the new dam is one of the few remaining expanses of good forest cover near Metro Manila,” he told the Varsitarian.
The creation of the dam would “block the movement” and “break the life cycle” of migratory fish species such as mullets or banak and eels or palos that could result in their gradual extinction in the upper Kaliwa-Kanan River Systems, according to an Environmental impact assessment of the project.

John Leo Algo, program manager of Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative, said the public should worry about the project because it would be “another example of short-sighted, dubious action by the government” that would disregard the long-term consequences for the environment and the people.

Algo said the project would destroy more than 12,000 hectares of the biodiverse Sierra Madre, the country’s largest remaining rainforest.

“Many endangered species including the iconic Philippine eagle will be in further danger, losing their home that is supposed to be legally protected as a sanctuary,” Algo told the Varsitarian.

Environmental group Haribon Foundation reportedly warned in November last year that the project, which site is part of the protected Kaliwa Watershed Forest Reserve that has its portion declared as a National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, would threaten the endangered north Philippine hawk-eagle, Philippine hornbill, Philippine warty pig and Philippine brown deer.

The foundation also said the project would affect 126 recorded plant species living in the Sierra Madre.

Assoc. Prof. Moses Norman Garcia, chairman of the Natural Sciences Unit in the University, said the “ecological balance” should be maintained in the Sierra Madre, which he considered the “last frontier” of wildlife existence in such part of Luzon.

“With ecological balance comes a high level of biodiversity which we heavily depend for our existence as humans.

Thus, it is clear that the disadvantages of constructing the Kaliwa Dam outweigh the advantages,” Garcia told the Varsitarian.

The project’s site would include the ancestral domain of the indigenous Dumagat-Remontado tribe that inhabited Sierra Madre and did not consent for the project, Algo noted.

The project would flood the lands of the tribe and houses in Tanay, Rizal and Pagsangahan in Quezon, environmental groups such as Philippine Movement for Climate Justice and Green Thumb Coalition among many others.

The project, which bilateral loan agreement was signed by President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November last year, would focus on the Kaliwa-Kanan-Agos River Basin as an alternative water source, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System stated on its website.

Papa and Garcia stressed that the government should focus on looking for other sources of water, such as improving the water quality of Laguna de Bay which could reduce the cost of water treatment prior to distribution and reviving the Wawa Dam in Rodriguez, Rizal rather than construct a new dam.

Algo noted that dam reservoirs could also be a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane.

“Considering the Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, such a move will only depict the country as unable to fully commit to a more sustainable future,” Algo said.

Algo also warned that the Kaliwa Low Dam would be within two active tectonic plates, which would make it earthquake-prone and endanger people of potential flash floods and landslides.

Constructing dams would be a last resort in other countries, and they ensure to safeguard biodiversity in case dams needed to be constructed, which was not a practice in the Philippines, Papa claimed.

A full-blown water crisis

Papa stressed that although there has been a decrease in water levels of La Mesa Dam, which along with the main source Angat Dam provides water in Metro Manila, the water crisis affecting an estimated 52, 000 households across Metro Manila last

March was mainly due to the failure of Manila Water to have the needed “precautionary measures that might have averted the total disruption of its services.”

“[O]ne of the most vital items in the Millennium Development Goals has been compromised with this crisis. It [shows] how little the Philippines has progressed in the past 30 years–in addressing access to safe drinking water. The [drought] happening now is barely starting and yet we have a full-blown water crisis,” he noted.

Promoting water conservation through education and communication should be strengthened, Algo said.

“More importantly, the water management system already in place (i.e. pipelines for distribution) needs to be improved and the private companies responsible need to be held accountable for their mistakes,” he added.

The water crisis reflected the congestion of the east zone of Metro Manila, with the “urban sprawl putting a significant strain on natural resources in the region,” indicating an overpopulation in the area, Papa said.

Algo said decongesting Metro Manila to reduce water demand could be a viable option to solve water crisis.

Possible solutions to the water crisis without constructing a dam in protected areas would be purifying water through filtration and desalination of seawater like the practice in Singapore, but the use of such technology would be costly, Garcia said. Beatriz Avegayle S. Timbang and Miguel Alejandro IV. A Herrera


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