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Tragedy of the Commons: Water shortage as El Niño strikes

It was as early as Sept. 2018 when PAGASA warned about a possible occurrence of El Niño on the last quarter of the year extending to several months of 2019. Though weather agencies predict a weak El Niño, it is still expected to cause dry spells, given the below normal amount of rainfall during the first quarter of 2019 and could cause drought if climate conditions would not improve.

In February, PAGASA warned that water level would drop below the Angat dam’s critical level of 180 masl by June. However, the decline in Angat’s water level came 2 months earlier on April 28, when water level registered at 179.97 masl. The dam’s water level is at 175.65 masl as of May 7, 2019.

The persistence of the weak El Niño that started late 2018 brought below normal rainfall in the area hosting the Angat watershed, resulting to low water inflows from its major tributaries - the Matulid, Talaguio and Maputi rivers.

Historically, the dam’s minimum operating level was breached 4 times since 2010, the year it recorded a historical lowest level at 157.57 masl on July 18, 2010.

A careful look at the Angat Dam Operational curve published by the National Water Resource Board (NWRB) shows the 2019 curve seemingly declining faster compared to the 2014, 2015, and 2016 levels.

This pushed the NWRB to limit allocation for irrigation, giving priority to Metro Manila’s water supply.

The changing climate has also affected the lives of those residing in Angat watershed for years, according to Dumagat leader Rogelio Villarama. The inconvenience experienced by residents during dry seasons as water level drops becomes more challenging during the rainy season as the river swells. These make it more difficult for the Dumagat to sustainably earn a living from fishing and harvesting forest products.

Water level in the dam does recover during rainy season. In fact, in 2011, the National Power Corporation struggled to keep the water level beyond its spilling level of 212 masl to avoid flooding downstream communities in Bulacan. However, climate models released by PAGASA last April 24 forecast below-normal and near-normal levels by Aug. to Oct. 2019.

The water shortage in Manila may have caused inconvenience to many, but Angat watershed residents would like to appeal for city dwellers to make a conscious effort to conserve water as the weak El Niño persists. This would hopefully ensure that water in the reservoir would be enough for everyone.



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