All eyes on the Kaliwa Dam project: Will its benefits outweigh the costs?

As the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases in the Philippines breached the 15,000-mark, with majority in the National Capital Region (NCR), the importance of water, its sufficient supply, safety level and accessibility has been emphasized during the pandemic.

However, the onset of the dry season, worsened by the effect of climate change, the Philippines is faced anew with the water supply shortage problem.

The estimated 12 million people in the NCR are cognizant of this problem.

Just last year, the East Zone Concession in Metro Manila saw its worst water supply shortage in decades when water at the Angat Dam fell below the critical level and the supposedly reserved water at La Mesa Dam neared depletion.

Manila Water Co. Inc. has drawn water from La Mesa dam in the past to augment its limited supply or approved allocation of 2,400 million liters per day (MLD) coming from Angat. This is meant to cover for the increased demand associated with the extremely hot weather condition vis-a-vis Manila Water’s expanding area of coverage. Over the years, there has also been an increasing number of people consuming water, which apparently has gone beyond its limited resources.

A long-term solution to Metro Manila’s water woes touted by the Duterte administration: the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project, a flagship project under its “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) program.

Preventive project

The Kaliwa Dam is just one of several projects being pursued by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) under its Water Security Plan for 2018-2023.

The project is expected to provide redundancy of water source and augment supply from Angat Dam, hence, preventing water shortage problems. It aims to ease the strain on the Angat-Ipo-La-Mesa water system and ensure water supply during the occurrence of El Niño.

The measure consists of the A-B-C projects and the Wawa Dam project of the consortium led by businessmen Enrique K. Razon and Oscar Violago pending the completion of the Kaliwa Dam.

Funded by the Chinese government through Official Development Assistance (ODA) from China, the P12.2-billion Kaliwa Dam project will be implemented by the China Energy Engineering Corp. (CEEC).

The dam, 60 meters in height, will be built along the Kaliwa (left) River, within the jurisdiction of Barangay Pagsangahan, General Nakar municipality, and Barangay Magsaysay, Infanta municipality, both in Quezon Province. It will be complemented by a 27.7-kilometer raw-water conveyance tunnel that will lead to water treatment facilities.

Easing pressure

The proposed locations of the water treatment facilities are in Antipolo, which is 29 aerial kilometers southeast of Manila, and Theresa, Rizal which is 27 aerial kilometers southeast of Manila.

Once completed, the project which has the capacity to provide 600 million liters per day of raw water although its capacity of 2,400 MLD per day can be maximized, hence, easing the pressure on the 60-year-old Angat dam, currently the source of 97 percent of raw water being supplied to Metro Manila and nearby towns of Cavite and Rizal.

The need for a new water source in light of the increasing population vis-a-vis the limited capacity of the Angat dam to store water and provide adequate supply to meet the ever-growing demand in Metro Manila is unquestionable.

The lingering question is: “Will the promised benefits of the Kaliwa Dam Project outweigh or justify the costs?”

Overview of the project

The Kaliwa Dam Project is expected to be completed in five years.

Construction activities should have started last year and will be completed in 2024. But because of permit problems, the project is already delayed.

The area is within the Sierra Madre mountain range and has been identified as rich in biodiversity and high in endemism.

A good number of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have been recorded in the area, along with several native trees that are critically-endangered or threatened with extinction.

The project size falls under the classification of a major dam infrastructure, categorized as an Environmentally- Critical Project (ECP) requiring an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Documents reveal it is also located in an Environmentally Critical Area (ECA); the Kaliwa Dam watershed being partly covered by Proclamation 573 (1969) as the Kaliwa Watershed Forest Reserve (KWFR).

At the same time, the project site is within the National Integrated Protected Area System (Nipas) having been proclaimed as National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary and Game Refuge Reservation by virtue of Proclamation 1636 in 1977. Moreover, a more recent proclamation is the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) awarded to the Dumagat-Remontado indigenous peoples; a part of their area lies inside the Kaliwa River watershed.

Prior compliance

According to MWSS Administrator Emmanuel B. Salamat, the CEEC is proceeding with a detailed engineering design of the project on a “design-build contractual” arrangement between the MWSS and the CEEC.

So far, the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has issued an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the project last November 11, 2019. Subsequently, a “Notice to Proceed for the Detailed Design Phase” was issued to the CEEC on November 13, 2019.

Prior to the lockdown in March, engineers and surveyors of CEEC were conducting topographic and geological surveys along the tunnel alignment and the dam site, Salamat said.

Meanwhile, the MWSS was conducting prior compliance for issuing “possession of site” for the project facilities, where the initial construction activities will begin, starting with the camp construction site facilities that will house engineers and other workers.

At the same time, the MWSS and its project partners said in early March they were currently coordinating with people in affected communities to ensure “smooth construction operations.”

Lead to loss

The project’s positive and negative impacts to the social, cultural and economic activities of communities, including the potential environmental problems and how the proponents plan to prevent or address them were identified in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) submitted by the MWSS to the DENR-EMB.

According to the document, the pre-construction activities would alter the natural landscape and its aesthetic value. These activities would, ironically, lead to deteriorated water quality that would potentially lead to health and sanitation problems, the EIA report said.

As the project will require mobility and use heavy equipment and other motor vehicles to bring in construction materials, the project will lead to permanent loss and disturbance to existing vegetation in the project site.

During the pre-construction phase, there will be possible death, or disturbance, and displacement of wildlife species and destruction or damage to habitat.

Expected changes

Meanwhile, during the operation of the dam, the expected impact includes land submergence of some springs and caves in Barangay Daraitan, the starting point for a popular route for hikers. An operational dam is also expected to alter the migration pattern of aquatic organisms, more habitat loss and fragmentation, the EIA report noted.

The large-scale clearing of vegetation in the construction site will likely lead to altered movements and dispersal of wildlife, and proliferation of invasive alien species or the invasion of non-native and degraded habitat-associated species.

The EIA also identified water use conflict and the loss of food source and navigation access from Barangay Daraitan to Sitio Quebobosa as potential problems that would impact residents.

Creating jobs

The proponents said it would implement mitigating measures to prevent disasters and minimize the impact on the environment from the project during the pre-construction and actual construction of the dam and the conveyance tunnel.

Salamat acknowledges that many, particularly indigenous peoples, live by the bounty of the Sierra Madre mountain range and would be affected by the project “as the land is the source of food and subsistence of the IP communities.” However, he said would-be affected communities would not be left behind.

“They plant crops, vegetables and fruit-bearing trees,” Salamat said. “Livelihood is through agroforestry, rice, and fishing.”

He explained that the MWSS has formulated an integrated community development plan that included watershed, indigenous peoples and social development plans.

Salamat said the affected communities would be relocated and receive compensation.

Engaging the people

The claims and benefits, Salamat said, are the subjects of negotiations between the indigenous peoples in Rizal and Quezon and the MWSS.

According to him, two memoranda of agreements (MOAs) were expected finalized by the end of March. Meanwhile, the indigenous people’s communities are also crafting their respective community resource development plans.

Salamat pointed out the upside of the project includes the generation of jobs and livelihood for the communities during the pre-construction and operation phases of the project. Of course, he said, it would achieve the ultimate goal of having a sustainable source of water for Metro Manila, Rizal, Cavite and Bulacan.

Salamat said that indigenous peoples have been helping the MWSS and the CEEC in their surveys.

‘Narrow-minded minority’

Opposition to the project, however, continues to grow.

There’s the Stop Kaliwa Dam Network (SKDN) organization whose opposition to the construction of the Kaliwa Dam is evidence-based and broad-based, according to its spokesman Rovik S. Obanil.

This is contrary to the government’s claim that only a few “narrow-minded minority” are opposed to the development, Obanil said.

He claims that “on the ground, only the Municipal Development Council of Gen. Nakar, and not the Sanggunian Bayan as required by law, is openly in favor of the dam, unmindful of how the Kaliwa Dam, once constructed will affect the water source of General Nakar.”

According to Obanil, the adjacent municipalities of Infanta and Real have already rejected the project. He added that while the local government unit (LGU) of Tanay has endorsed the project, he said they did so with reservation and laid down explicit conditions that remain unmet.

“At the national level, a broad grouping of organizations and individuals have already clearly articulated their arguments against Kaliwa Dam on the basis of its negative social, cultural, environmental impacts and economic impacts,” Obanil said.

To take years

Obanil said the Kaliwa Dam is not a silver bullet that will solve the problem of water scarcity in Metro Manila.

He noted that the dam will require several years to construct and, by the government’s own proposed timeline, the dam will not be completed until 2023.

“In other words, the additional supply it is supposed to provide will not be available to address the current supply deficit that [water utility companies] claim is the root of the massive water service interruptions experienced in their service area for almost three weeks last year,” Obanil said.

He also debunked the claim that a large dam is needed in order to deal with a water shortage. Obanil pointed out viable alternatives that can address the problem of current and future supply deficits.

“Strong watershed management and biodiversity protection of all watersheds around Metro Manila, including the La Mesa watershed, good water governance and strong government regulation of the two water concessionaires will go a long way towards providing Metro Manila with sustainable water sources,” he said. “Laguna Bay and Wawa Dam have also been identified by experts as viable water sources.”

Reducing demand

Beyond looking at the supply side of the equation, Obanil said there is a dire need at actually reducing demand. This could be achieved by aggressively promoting water conservation through massive education campaign aimed at consumers and reducing non-revenue water by concessionaires.

Obanil added that a huge volume of water is lost because of leaks and pilferage.

“Maynilad’s current non-revenue water (NRW) or water lost due to leaks and pilferage alone, for example, represents close to 80 percent of expected output from Kaliwa,” he said. “Meanwhile, the average consumption of the East zone has reportedly reached 200 liters a day per person or equivalent to a drum of water per day per person.”

Obanil said the government should lead the way in conserving water by recycling used water and investing in rainwater harvesting.

“We have so much rainwater and need to look at impounding [it],” he said. “We should also seriously consider proposals to separate drinking water from water used to flush toilets and other needs in order to drastically cut water consumption.”

Issues, problems

According to Obanil, there are also legal and moral issues involved in pursuing the Kaliwa Dam project.

“Proceeding with the project, as it is to be built within the ancestral domain of the Dumagat and Remontado indigenous peoples, will violate” several laws, he said. He cited these as Republic Act (RA) 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, RA 7586 or the Nipas Act and RA 11038 or the Expanded Nipas Act.

According to Obanil, the project has failed to secure “free prior and informed consent,” or FPIC, from the Dumagat and Remontado indigenous peoples as required by RA 8371. According to the United Nations, the FPIC is a pre-requisite for any activity that affects indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands, territories and natural resources.

Obanil claims that leaders of these communities have questioned the process undertaken by the NCIP for securing the FPIC. He said the indigenous peoples have not been provided with copies of relevant documents from the MWSS that are essential for evaluating and making informed decisions.

Conditions unmet

Moreover, Obanil said the ECC for the project is marred by procedural violations and fails to employ good science in accounting for potential impacts of the project.

According to Obanil, the ECC issued by the DENR lists down numerous conditions that need to be met by the project proponent. These conditions, such as permits from relevant LGUs and governmental bodies, should have been complied with before and not after the issuance of the ECC, he added.

Moreover, Obanil questioned why the MWSS, through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), has started to build the access road to the dam site. This, he said, is a violation of the law since the construction has no permit from the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) or from the LGU of Infanta under whose jurisdiction covers part of the road.

“The road project also does not have permission from the indigenous peoples through the FPIC nor an ECC from DENR as require by law,” Obanil said.

Philippine biodiversity

According to Obanil, the indigenous peoples are not the only aggrieved party in the project.

As the dam will be constructed within the Kaliwa Watershed Forest Reserve, the forest and the wildlife that thrives in the area will suffer severely, he said.

The Kaliwa Watershed was declared a forest reserve by Proclamation 573 on June 22, 1968. Under Proclamation 1636 issued on April 18, 1977, a portion of the watershed was also declared as National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, which makes it supposedly off-limits to development projects.

Conservation society Haribon Foundation said the Kaliwa Watershed is home to various threatened wildlife. These include the following: endangered Northern Philippine hawk-eagle (Nisaetus philippensis); the Philippine brown deer (Rusa marianna); the Philippine warty pig (Sus philippensis); the vulnerable Northern rufous hornbill (Buceros hydrocorax); and, the critically endangered Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi). The wildlife also includes restricted-range birds of the Luzon Endemic Bird Area, all of which are found nowhere else on the planet.

Meanwhile, the forests and coastline of the Kaliwa Watershed was declared in Presidential Proclamation 1636 (series of 1977) as habitat to 15 species of amphibians, 334 bird species, 1476 fish species, 963 invertebrate species, 81 mammal species, 50 plant species and 60 reptile species.

Land area

Based on SKDN’s study, the construction of the dam will inundate Barangay Daraitan in Tanay, Rizal, with a population of 1,000 households and 500 households from Pagsangahan, General Nakar, Quezon.

“This will mean the loss of significant income for the area due to the loss of eco-tourism in the Tinipak River, which has seen a boom in recent years,” he said.

According to the study, the dam will impact the areas further downstream, particularly the Municipality of Infanta, which will lose the benefit of sediment-carrying river flows.

“Infanta’s land area will see a significant reduction as a result. Irrigation to the rice paddies in Infanta will be affected,” Obanil said.

Active faults

He added that another reason for their opposition to the project is their knowledge that the Kaliwa Dam will be built within the zone of two active tectonic plates represented by the Philippine Fault Zone and the Valley Fault System.

Obanil cited the results of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study “The Study on Water Resources Development for Metro Manila in the Republic of the Philippines” in 2003.

“Along the Philippine Fault, many large-scale earthquakes were recorded in the past and the relative movement of six centimeters was observed in the period of 1991 to 1993,” he said. “Therefore, it can be said that the Philippine Fault Zone has a potential to cause very high seismic activity, as what has been recorded in the July 18, 1880, earthquake where the old churches of Infanta, Mauban, (both in Quezon province) and Manila Cathedral was devastated.”

New debts

Lastly, Obanil said because the project will be financed through ODA from China, it will only add debt and tie the Philippines to “an onerous loan we do not need.”

“The current financing scheme for the project, an ODA loan from China through the China Export Import Bank (CEIB) will add to the country’s ballooning debt, which is expected to hit an all-time high of P8 trillion this year, a huge 33.33-percent increase from the time the Duterte government took over in 2016,” says Obanil, who works for SKDM-member organization Freedom from Debt Coalition.

“More than this, it binds the country to an onerous agreement that encroaches on our sovereignty and opens up assets and natural resources to potential seizure by China,” he added.

Serious question

Another lop-sided provision in the Preferential Buyer’s Credit Loan Agreement with the Export-Import Bank of China is included in one of its sections.

Such section states that the agreement and all rights and obligations between the parties “shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of China,” and one which prescribes that dispute will be settled through arbitration under the auspices of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, a Chinese arbitration body, Obanil pointed out.

“On top of these is the higher interest rate—2 percent compared to the 0.25 percent to 0.75 percent—being offered by Japan, as well as a commitment fee of 0.3 percent and management fee of 0.3 percent,” he added.

He said taken together, the reasons are more than enough to call into serious question the wisdom of pushing through with the construction of the Kaliwa Dam.


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