Brac­ing for wa­ter com­pe­ti­tion

The Philippine Star - - OPINION -

Amid per­sis­tent re­ports of de­clin­ing wa­ter level of La Mesa Dam, the Metropoli­tan Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Sys­tem (MWSS) sought to as­suage con­sumers in Metro Manila and sub­urbs there is enough wa­ter sup­ply. That is, once the Kaliwa wa­ter dam in Que­zon Prov­ince is com­pleted by 2023. Metaphor­i­cally speak­ing, MWSS ad­min­is­tra­tor Rey­naldo Ve­lasco doused cold wa­ter to these fears fu­eled by the con­tin­u­ing de­cline of the wa­ter level in La Mesa Dam.

Ve­lasco an­nounced the MWSS is on track with its timetable on the P13.43 bil­lion New Cen­ten­nial Wa­ter Source – Kaliwa wa­ter dam project. It is one of the flag­ship projects of the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte through of­fi­cial de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance from China. The project is funded through a bi­lat­eral agree­ment Pres­i­dent Duterte signed with Chinese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in Oc­to­ber 2016 dur­ing his state visit to Bei­jing.

Ve­lasco ex­plained the Chinese gov­ern­ment com­mit­ted P10.2 bil­lion in of­fi­cial de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance (ODA) to fund the Kaliwa dam project. The bal­ance of the to­tal project cost will be shoul­dered by the MWSS out of its own re­sources com­ing from fees col­lected from their con­ces­sion­aires.

Since this is a “tied” loan, he stressed, only con­trac­tors from China can bid in this project. He con­firmed three Chinese firms have been pre-qual­i­fied to bid in the con­struc­tion of the Kaliwa Dam, namely: China En­ergy Engi­neer­ing Co. Ltd.; Power China Ltd.; and the con­sor­tium of Guan­dung Foreign Con­struc­tion Co. Ltd. and Guang­dung Yuan­tian Engi­neer­ing Co. Ltd. The three Chinese firms were nom­i­nated by the China Min­istry of Com­merce, through their em­bassy in Manila headed by am­bas­sador Zhao Jian­hua.

Based on the MWSS timetable, a pre-bid con­fer­ence was al­ready held last April 16. The MWSS Board set on May 11 the sub­mis­sion of bids. How­ever, Ve­lasco dis­closed, the MWSS may have to resched­ule the award and sign­ing slated this Au­gust upon re­quest of the Chinese con­trac­tors who asked for more time to sub­mit other re­quired doc­u­ments and per­mits.

Ac­cord­ing to Ve­lasco, an in­ter-agency body di­rectly un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the Of­fice of the Pres­i­dent is mak­ing sure the dam project does not suf­fer fur­ther de­lays. It took 30 years for this project to fi­nally take off. Ve­lasco dis­closed the dam – once op­er­a­tional – will pro­vide an ad­di­tional 650 mil­lion liters of wa­ter a day (mld) to aug­ment the 4,000 mld from An­gat Dam in Bu­la­can.

“We have to keep mon­i­tor­ing the de­mand for wa­ter sup­ply. We can­not over­sup­ply wa­ter be­cause the ex­cess costs will be shoul­dered un­nec­es­sar­ily by the cus­tomers,” Ve­lasco pointed out. Aside from Kaliwa Dam, he added, the MWSS is also over­see­ing the con­struc­tion of tun­nels that will serve as con­veyance of wa­ter com­ing from Laiban Dam, Wawa Dam, and the Kanan Hy­dro­elec­tric Dam which is slated to be com­pleted in 2026.

These projects, he noted, have been there since Mar­cos’ time. “It is just now dur­ing the Build, Build, Build project un­der the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion, that these (dams) are be­ing con­structed,” the MWSS chief said. “We are re­view­ing which of these projects will be the least cost to the peo­ple,” he stressed.

The re­as­sur­ances of MWSS chief were taken with wide grins – if not with a grain of salt so to speak – by the re­spec­tive chief oper­at­ing of­fi­cers (COO) of Manila Wa­ter Geodino “Ding” Car­pio and Randy Estrel­lado of Mayni­lad Wa­ter. Both MWSS con­ces­sion­aires Manila Wa­ter and Mayni­lad draw their wa­ter sup­ply from La Mesa and An­gat Dam for their con­sumers in Metro Manila.

The Ayala-owned Manila Wa­ter cov­ers the north-east­ern part of Metro Manila and Rizal while Mayni­lad – run by the Manny V. Pangili­nan (MVP) Group of Com­pa­nies – serves the western/south­ern part of Metro Manila and Cavite.

We had a good laugh in our Kapi­han sa Manila Bay last Wed­nes­day at Cafe Adri­atico in Reme­dios Cir­cle where we fea­tured the MWSS chief along with the two COOs when we tackled the issues of wa­ter se­cu­rity.

Or, was it ner­vous laugh­ter over pos­si­ble wa­ter short­age in Metro Manila not be­cause of cli­mate change but due to some­thing else?

A re­tired po­lice gen­eral, Ve­lasco – who now heads the nine-man MWSS board – con­ceded wa­ter se­cu­rity in Metro Manila in­deed faces threats re­lated to the ef­fects of cli­mate change. Called El Niño phe­nom­e­non, the MWSS chief noted the pro­longed sum­mer heat gave rise to such wa­ter short­age fears.

Proof of which, Ve­lasco cited, a third wa­ter con­ces­sion­aire in Bu­la­can – run by Ra­mon Ang’s San Miguel Corp. (SMC) Group – also draws wa­ter from An­gat Dam. The SMC, to­gether with Korea Wa­ter Re­sources Corp., were awarded the project in Jan­uary 2016 af­ter they of­fered the low­est cost of P8.50 per cu­bic me­ter.

The Bu­la­can Bulk Wa­ter Sup­ply Project, the first wa­ter project awarded un­der the pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship (PPP) pro­gram, is a 30-year con­ces­sion deal. Un­der the agree­ment, the SMC-K Wa­ter group will build and main­tain the con­veyance and treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties and the wa­ter source to serve 21 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and three cities, and to ben­e­fit a to­tal of 3.4 mil­lion res­i­dents.

Ve­lasco’s ex­am­ple of the third wa­ter user of An­gat Dam per­haps elicited the ner­vous gig­gles from both Manila Wa­ter and Mayni­lad COOs. It’s like hav­ing a third wa­terco in the same mold of the third telco soon to op­er­ate in our coun­try where both the Ayala Group and the MVP Group fig­ure anew in com­pe­ti­tion in the mar­ket.

In the case of the Ayala Group, Manila Wa­ter’s whol­ly­owned sub­sidiary Manila Wa­ter Philip­pine Ven­tures re­cently re­ceived the no­tice of award from the Balag­tas Wa­ter Dis­trict for a 25-year con­ces­sion which will implement wa­ter and used wa­ter projects amount­ing to P400 mil­lion in Balag­tas, Bu­la­can.

For the MVP Group, Estrel­lado cited they have to deal with still high sys­tem losses when they took over the Mayni­lad ten years ago from the Lopez Group of Com­pa­nies. Thus, Mayni­lad is still cop­ing with old pipes, leaks, pil­fer­age, and other non-wa­ter rev­enue losses.

More than the feared wa­ter cri­sis, both Manila Wa­ter and Mayni­lad are brac­ing for more wa­ter com­pe­ti­tion while wait­ing for com­ple­tion of these dam projects.

Or, was it ner­vous laugh­ter over pos­si­ble wa­ter short­age in Metro Manila not be­cause of cli­mate change but due to some­thing else?

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