Editorial: Mitigating the water challenge

·2 min read

Water is a scarce resource for many residents of Metro Cebu.

The irony is not lost on people who live in portions of the metro that are quickly inundated with water every time there is a sudden downpour, especially during the rainy season. The problem only becomes apparent during the dry season, when certain areas suffer from intermittent or total lack of supply.

Almost all freshwater in the metro comes from underground aquifers. Groundwater reserves are reportedly nearing depletion due to unregulated pumping as well as saline intrusion of coastal aquifers.

The Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) has received a lot of flak for failing to come up with a long-lasting solution to the problem.

In 2017, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “an international organization that works to build better policies for better lives,” published the “OECD Green Growth Studies: Green Growth in Cebu, Philippines.”

It made several recommendations to address the water challenge, one of which is “to develop and encourage green infrastructures more aggressively, such as rainwater collectors on buildings and retention ponds, green spaces in vacant land deemed unsuitable for development.”

The study also suggested using economic instruments to manage water demand, such as “increased block water tariffs, charges for water abstraction, and carrot and stick mechanisms to encourage developers and households to build or use green infrastructures.”

The establishment of desalination plants to mitigate the scarcity was briefly mentioned along with the need to set up more dams, expand pipe connections and adopt solar-powered water systems.

The MCWD recently announced that it gave the go signal for a consortium to build a desalination plant in the cities of Cebu, Lapu-Lapu and Talisay.

Once completed, the project is expected to supply an additional 80 million liters of water daily to these areas, said Jose Daluz III, chairman of MCWD’s board of directors.

That should be great news to consumers. However, there are reasons why desalination, the process of extracting salt from water to make it potable, is used as a last resort in situations where it can be avoided.

The advantages are obvious. Aside from providing accessible drinking water, it can reduce pressure on freshwater supplies that come from areas that need protecting.

But this comes at a cost, which Daluz did not enumerate.

Disposal of the salt removed from the water can be tricky and can prove stressful or even fatal to animals at the disposal site not used to higher salinity. The process of desalination also uses and produces numerous chemicals that can be harmful in high concentrations.

Meanwhile, it is very expensive to build and operate a desalination plant. Once in operation, a plant requires huge amounts of energy, which will affect the price per cubic meter of water.

With desalination, more water will indeed be available. The question is, will it be affordable?