Government officials push for controversial China-funded dam project amid water shortage

Photo: mrjn Photography / Unsplash
Photo: mrjn Photography / Unsplash

As Filipinos continue to experience water interruptions, government officials are pushing for the approval of a China-funded dam project that has been protested by environmentalists.

The construction of the Kaliwa Dam in Infanta, Quezon province could have helped the current shortage experienced by water provider Manila Water, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said in a press conference yesterday.

“Had [the dam] been done before the water crisis, this had been much less serious or much less of a threat,” he said, according to Rappler.

There have been water interruptions in several cities in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces as early as late last week. This is reportedly due to the El Niño or drought that limited provider Manila Water’s access to water.

Manila Water, which services the eastern part of the metro, said in a Facebook post yesterday that the water interruptions —  which last about six to 21 hours a day — could continue until the end of the summer season, which is typically in May.

Areas serviced by Maynilad, the company that supplies the western part of the metro, have not experienced similar interruptions.

As of 6am today, the water level in Quezon City’s La Mesa Dam was at 68.74 meters, the lowest it has ever been in history, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration told Radyo Inquirer. The La Mesa Dam is one of the main sources of water in Metro Manila.

During yesterday’s press conference, Dominguez said that the bidding for the Kaliwa Dam was “well on its way,” The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

“I’m sure the MWSS [Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System] would convince contractors to move faster than originally planned,” he said.

The MWSS is the government agency in charge of water privatization in Metro Manila. In November, it secured a Preferential Buyer’s Credit Loan Agreement from China during President Xi Jinping’s Manila visit.

According to Rappler, 85 percent of the project will be funded by China while the MWSS will cover the remaining 15 percent.

MWSS Administrator Reynaldo Velasco also pushed for the project yesterday, according to ABS-CBN News, saying that it would provide up to 600 million liters of water a day, which will be split evenly between Manila Water and Maynilad. Both companies have expressed support for the PHP12.2 billion (US$231.8 million) project in the past.

However, it is controversial because environmentalists believe that it will destroy the biodiversity in the Siera Madre mountains. It could also displace communities living in the provinces of Quezon and Rizal.

Even the Catholic Church is against the project, with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines saying that the government’s budget should instead go towards finding alternative water sources.

The MWSS still hasn’t secured an environmental compliance certificate from the Environment department as requirements for their application have not been submitted, Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda told ABS-CBN News.

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