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Preserving Bued River; Protecting a heritage site
by Jane Cadalig

Bued River, one of Baguio City’s critical bodies of water, needs enhanced preservation efforts, not only to provide a sustainable water supply to the areas it traverses but also to maintain the integrity of the historic road that runs along it.

Aside from sustaining life and other activities along its path, Bued River’s preservation will also help safeguard the image of Kennon Road, one of the vital roads that connects Baguio to the rest of the country and among the city’s most famous landmarks.

 “Preserving Bued River is also a way of protecting Kennon Road,” said Engr. Raul Cubangay, chief of the Water Quality Management Section of the Environmental Management Bureau-Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Just as the other bodies of water and watersheds in Baguio that have gained public support, government agencies are calling for an equal effort to protect Bued, which is now beset with problems on irresponsible disposal of solid wastes, wanton discharging of toxic chemicals, and forest degradation.

Bued River is the major source of water for agriculture and aquaculture and sustains industrial activities such as quarrying and small-scale mining downstream, especially along parts of Tuba, Benguet. Currently, it falls under Class C of the EMB’s water classification.

Cubangay said Class C rivers can be used to provide water for fishery production, industrial uses, and for recreation, albeit the latter is only for boating.

Critical watershed

Bued River is also part of the 325-hectare reservation area of Camp John Hay. CJH covers 625 hectares, 301 hectares of which are devoted to the John Hay Economic Zone.

Alberto Banatao, environment manager of John Hay Management Corporation, said the company has intensified its preservation initiatives to safeguard Bued.

Among other efforts, JHMC has established fire lines in areas that are highly susceptible to flames, man-made or otherwise, such as barangays Happy Hallow, Dagsian, Country Club, and Lucnab in Baguio City.

“Fire occurrences affect the sustainability of water supply so we have to involve the upstream barangays in preventing fire,” Banatao said.

According to the 2013 accomplishment report of JHMC President Jamie Agbayani, which was recently presented before the Baguio media, the areas where firelines are established and maintained cover a total of 48,228 square meters in the John Hay reservation. In 2012, a total of 34,320 sq.m. were covered, the same report showed.

Aside from arresting fire occurrences, JHMC is also at the forefront of the government’s reforestation program, it being the steward of more than 50 percent of Baguio’s forest land.

The company’s tree nursery maintains the propagation of various tree species, some of which are given to barangays within the John Hay reservation.

“We have to sustain our reforestation efforts to enhance the watershed function of Bued,” Banatao said.

The river traverses 25 barangays of Baguio City and six in Tuba before it drains towards Rosario, La Union and Sison, San Fabian, San Jacinto, and Mangaldan, all in Pangasinan.

Bued as WQMA

Like the Balili River, which earned the support of various groups for its revival and eventual designation as a Water Quality Management Area (WQMA), the EMB is also pushing for the establishment of Bued as a WQMA to boost its protection.

Cubangay is optimistic parties that have enlisted their support for Bued’s protection will come out with workable solutions to address the threats besetting the river.

Among the initial and continuing initiatives done for Bued River’s preservation is the conduct of regular water sampling. Cubangay said the EMB has set up 28 sampling stations along the river.

Water sampling by the EMB shows the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) of Bued River is within the standards. BOD is the amount of dissolved oxygen needed by organisms in a body of water to break down organic material from a pollution source. It is used as an indication of the organic quality of water.

Latest sampling shows Bued’s BOD at 5 milligrams per liter at the Baguio side or the upper parts of the river, according to Cubangay.

Aside from the BOD, the river is also evaluated based on the presence of total suspended solids, which measures the turbidity of the water; total dissolved solids, which measures the presence of chemical contaminants in the river; and heavy metals. Results of sampling on these criteria were not immediately available.

To enhance preservation efforts for Bued, Cubangay said the local government of Tuba has signed a memorandum of agreement indicating its commitment to help in protecting the stream.

The establishment of Bued as WQMA will not only aim for its maintenance under the Class C classification. “We want to elevate its status to a better classification,” he said.

Bued was reclassified as Class C in 1995 from a Class D classification. “The closure of a mining firm along the river’s path has helped improved its status,” Cubangay said.

One of the first major activities to be done once Bued is established as a WQMA is the formulation of 10-year action plan for its preservation.

A river established as a WQMA enjoys an institutionalized support. Aside from the support a river gets from the stakeholders that committed for its protection, the government also provides funds to finance activities towards its protection.

Banatao said JHMC is supporting the move to have Bued River designated as a WQMA.

Intensified protection efforts

At present, JHMC has a multipartite monitoring team, which undertakes the continuous supervision of all activities relating to the protection of its watershed, including that of Bued.

Banatao said the MMT conducts quarterly monitoring of the river, among the other sectors that are supervised. The DENR regional office, representatives of people’s organizations, representatives of the barangays, women’s group, senior citizens, and non-government organization are equally represented in the MMT.

JHMC has also intensified protection of the forests by engaging the services of forest rangers. There are presently 55 rangers, guarding the forest reservation covering John Hay.

“The rangers may not be able to guard the entire reservation on a 24/7 basis, but their mere presence during daytime will help discourage activities that will compromise the reservation.”

The forest rangers, according to Banatao, are deputized by the Department of Environment, which means they can arrest individuals found violating environmental laws.

“Our crusade against tree cutting continues because this remains a problem, despite the moratorium issued by the President,” Banatao said.

JHMC has also tied up with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the DENR in addressing the problem on illegal small-scale mining in some parts of Kennon Road.

In May last year, both agencies enforced the cease and desist order against illegal small-scale mining activities in Camp 4 and closed and dismantled a ball mill in the area.

“Rangers are posted in the area to ensure small-scale miners will not re-open the tunnels that have been sealed,” Banatao said.

Cubangay said other destructive activities upstream have consequences on the quality of water on the Bued River.

“Whatever activities done upstream will always have an effect on the river,” he said.

The now turbid Amliang Creek because of the earthmoving activities in the Sto. Tomas Forest Reservation, is also a tributary to the Bued River.

In terms of lessening garbage flowing to the river, Banatao said the JHMC has initiated and continue to encourage villages upstream to conduct cleanup drives to help arrest solid wastes from flowing downstream.

Alternative energy potentials

Apart from Kennon Road, Bued River also hosts another historic facility, one the JHMC plans to revive in the future.

“We want to rehabilitate the hydro power plants along Camp 6, Tuba so we can also help in the government’s alternative energy development plan,” Banatao said.

The facility was established by the Americans in 1913. The 1990 earthquake rendered the facility non-operational because of the severe damages it incurred. The facility occupies an area of about 14 hectares, with its pipelines running a total length of about two kilometers.

According to Agbayani’s report, the initial technical feasibility study on the reconstruction of the power plant, which was undertaken in December 2011 by a private power corporation, projected a potential power generation capacity of 3 to 3.5 megawatts.

The JHMC conducted an initial volume discharge study of the Bued River and revealed a flow rate of about 46,000 cubic meters per day. This however is still currently being monitored to find the applicable average and determine the feasibility of rehabilitating and operating the said power plant, the report added.

Bued and Kennon Road’s integrity

Cubangay said the preservation efforts done on Bued River will help maintain the integrity of Kennon Road as a tourist site.

“It is important to look into the preservation of Bued, since it runs along a road that is considered a heritage site,” he said.

The Japanese Association of Northern Luzon has called on the government to declare Kennon Road a national park.

The Japanese are among the groups of people that helped build Kennon Road in 1903, the shortest route to Baguio City from the lowlands.

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