By Jonathan L. Mayuga, April 25 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to ABS-CBN News

THE Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) has slapped Manila Water Co. Inc. with a total P1.134-billion fine in connection with the severe water shortage which continues to affect water customers in the East Zone concession area since March 6.

The decision, which includes a P534,050 million fine and additional P600-million fund for the development of a new water-supply source, was jointly announced by MWSS Chairman Franklin J. Demonteverde and Administrator Reynaldo V. Velasco after the MWSS Board unanimously approved the recommendation of the MWSS Regulatory Office on the imposition of the penalty relative to Manila Water’s failure to comply with Article 10.4 of its concession agreement with the MWSS.

The Resolution was signed by Demonteverde and Velasco, who sits as concurrent vice chairman of the MWSS Board, together with members Melchior I. Acosta Jr., Mariano C. Alegarbes, Merly M. Cruz, Jose R. Hernandez, Valeriano F. Pasquil, Melanie Sia-Lambino and Elpidio J. Vega.

The additional penalty of P600 million was imposed on Manila Water to be allocated in the funding of new water source.

In a separate statement, Manila Water said, “We will abide by the MWSS decision to impose a penalty. While we are not the root cause for the inadequacy of the raw water supply coming from Angat Dam, which we are mandated to treat and distribute, Manila Water, as agent and contractor of water services of MWSS, hold ourselves accountable for our inability to provide our consumers with the usual uninterrupted water service.“

Manila Water President and CEO Ferdinand de la Cruz added: “Our inability to provide our usual 24/7 water supply to some of our consumers are because Manila Water’s allocated water supply from Angat Dam is no longer sufficient for the total demand of the East Zone consumers.

This raw water allocation has remained unchanged at 1,600 MLD since the Concession started in 1997 when the East Zone had a population of only 3 million people. Today, Manila Water serves a population of almost 7 million people whose per capita consumption has significantly increased through over two decades of economic progress in Metro Manila. We cannot source any more from our system losses which have already been brought down to 12 percent from a high of 63 percent when we inherited the East Zone concession of Metro Manila in 1997,” he added.

De la Cruz maintained that Manila Water has strongly advocated for many years the development of new water sources beyond Angat Dam, both to ensure sufficiency of water supply as well as resiliency in case of any calamity around the Angat Dam system.

“However, the development of new water sources is, under the Concession Agreement, ultimately the responsibility of MWSS,” de la Cruz added.

The severe water service interruption, which was blamed on a combination of population growth, an increase in the number of water customers, and a spike in water demand that was aggravated by a “weak El Niño,” caused President Duterte’s outburst as he threatened to sack MWSS officials or even cancel Manila Water’s concession agreement with the government for the mess. The President then met with MWSS and officials of its private water concessionaires to give them a dressing down and warning. Acknowledging that it is partly to be blamed for the water shortage episode, Manila Water has announced its voluntary and one-time bill waiver program for its consumers which began implementation on April 1.

Under the program, all consumers of the East Zone will receive a waiver equivalent to the first 10 cubic meters of their March consumption which will be reflected in their April bills.

Severely affected consumers or those consumers who experienced absolutely no water service for at least seven days between March 6 and 31, meanwhile, will not be charged for their March consumption.

Meanwhile, Manila Water’s service recovery efforts are now geared toward addressing those residing in the elevated and farthest areas of the concession who are still inconvenienced due to the water supply shortage.

“As of April 23, we have made water available for at least eight hours, at least at the ground floor level, to 99 percent of our customer base. We have narrowed the gap of our supply deficit which has been reduced to 57 million liters per day from a high of 150 million liters per day through various supply augmentation efforts.” “We reaffirm our commitment to work closely with MWSS to address the remaining water supply deficit. We continue to seek understanding from our consumers as we fine-tune our operations to spread the still limited water supply across our customer base,” de la Cruz said.

Velasco said the water crisis episode that proved costly to Manila Water highlighted the lack of strategic preparedness on the realistic allocation of water supply to meet the growing population in the National Capital Region (NCR), as well as the need to develop new water supply sources and the much-needed improvement of the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa tunnel and conveyance system.

New roadmap

MEANWHILE, in a related development, Velasco said that he will recommend the issuance of an Executive Order by President Duterte to fast-track the water security roadmap of the Duterte Administration for Metro Manila and its serviced areas.

With the concurrence of the MWSS Board, the water agency has crafted a short, medium and long water security roadmap that will provide potable and sustainable water supply in the next 5, 10 and even 50 years with at an increase of at least 1,518 MLD by 2022.

Being fast-tracked under the new water security roadmap are the following projects: 150 MLD Putatan (2019); 100 MLD Cardona (2019); 188 MLD Sumag (2020); 50 MLD Rizal Wellfield (2020); 80 MLD Calawis Wawa (2021); 100 MLD Putatan 3 (2022); and 250 MLD Lower Ipo. These, aside from the 600 MLD Kaliwa Dam projects whose implementation began in 2017 and is expected to be completed in 2023.

According to Velasco, to complement the New Water Security Roadmap (2019-2022), there is the urgent need to fast-track the completion of Aqueduct 6 and Tunnel 4, both started during the Duterte Administration by the present MWSS Board and Management. The two projects are expected to be operationalized by January 2020.

MWSS also expects to complete by June 2022 the Aqueduct 7 and Tunnel 5 which are now on stream to provide another 1,600 MLD to flow towards La Mesa. The completion of these aqueducts and tunnel system will optimize the flow of excess water from Angat to La Mesa Dam.