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When development becomes a bane
by Rimaliza Opiña

The 1900s may historically be considered as the era when the Rancheria called Kafagway was slowly transformed into a trade center.

When Commandante Guillermo Galvey established his commandancia in La Trinidad in 1846 and moved the presidentia to Kafagway, a ranch with about 20 houses, the Spaniards later established churches, schools and trails, which hastened trade in the area.

It was this setup which Americans saw in the 1900s. In 1904, urban planner Daniel Burnham arrived in what is to be known as Baguio and began planning a “garden city.” That time, Baguio was beginning to be known as an alternative destination from the humidity of the lowlands.

This became a magnet for immigrants, notwithstanding the lull Baguio experienced during the 1990 earthquake and the meningococcemia scare in 2004.

While economy prospered, effects of a growing population were slowly  felt. In fact, as early as the 1960s, the city council passed several measures ranging from regulating traffic and reserving several lots for future government needs. Back then, they saw that several decades from their time, population will grow exponentially.

As of the 2010 census, the National Statistics Office said Baguio’s population stands at 318,676, which means for every square kilometer, there are more than 5,000 people. By 2015, population is estimated to reach 334,562. The National Statistical Coordination Board said this will double in 30 years.

As population steadily grew, use of resources such as water also increased.


In 2009, former councilor Perlita Rondez proposed a one-year moratorium in the construction of new buildings. She said this will give breathing space for Baguio. At the time, commercial buildings began to rise in areas where previously, a height limit was imposed.

Her proposal remained archived. But recently, the Baguio Water District suggested a similar proposition – for the city government to pass a resolution declaring a moratorium on the development of new subdivision projects, until such time that a viable water supply is found.

“Development has to slow down in Baguio,” BWD General Manager Salvador Royeca told the city council in its June 9 session. He said hotels and subdivisions require an additional demand for water.

He also asked the city council to pass an ordinance regulating the use of deepwells as this depletes aquifers of water supply.

The 2010-2011 Business Risk Assessment research done by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and Bank of the Philippine Islands Foundation showed extensive real estate development in Baguio impedes water recharge in aquifers. “Baguio City has a serious water problem. This will get worse if Baguio’s population continues to grow at its current rate and more sustainable solutions are not put in  place,” the WWF-BPI study said. 

With demand greater than supply, Royeca said the city government should employ measures to regulate development.

BWD data showed total water consumption for 2012 was 8,614,038 cubic meters (m3). Judging from the four-year data collated by the City Planning and Development Office, water consumption showed a  steady increase from 2008 to 2012. From 8,059,245m3 in 2008, half a million cubic meters was added to water consumption.

The data also showed that while residential consumers are biggest consumers of water, commercial establishments classified as “commercial B” showed a significant contribution in water consumption, albeit the data showed fluctuating figures.

Data from the City Buildings and Architecture Office also showed from 2009 to the first quarter of 2012, there were 1,798 building permits issued for residential, commercial, and institutional structures.


Because of lack of space, informal settlers have encroached on watersheds. Currently, the city’s watersheds comprise around 240 hectares of Baguio’s total land area. Busol Watershed happens to be the biggest but along with Forbes Park 1, Forbes Park 2, Forbes Park 3, and Lucnab, land claimants abound in the area.

Topography is also a challenge to the BWD. Because of low water pressure, water could not be distributed especially in steep areas. Several barangays depend on deep wells, natural spring sources, and private water delivery companies.

The BWD also has a high systems loss pegged at 39 percent.

How to conserve abundant rainwater in Baguio is also a challenge not only to the BWD, but also to city officials.

The average rainfall in Baguio is between 900 to 1,000mm. According to the WWF-BPI, rains become runoff water and flows freely to the rivers.

Royeca said a highly concrete environment has contributed to waste of water. He said this water flows out instead of being absorbed by aquifers.

The low recharge rate of aquifers also contributes to water shortage, Royeca added.

Temporary solution

CBAO Officer-in-Charge Johnny Degay said the BWD’s proposition will not entirely solve water shortage.

Degay said nothing in the National Building Code prevents a property owner from wanting to develop their property as long as regulations are complied with.

“Not unless the building owner is an environmentalist, then they may choose to use ‘Earth-friendly’ materials” However, Degay said this is not an obligation on the part of the owner.
“Current regulations are on zoning only,” Degay said.

So far, the Local Zoning Board on Adjustments and Appeals now require building owners who intend to build a structure that is more than three stories high to install a rainwater harvester. But he said rainwater collected in buildings is not enough to sustain the water demand for the structure. He said in the end, BWD has to find a source which can give a steady supply of water.

Realtors also do not subscribe to the BWD’s suggestion for a moratorium in development.

Chamber of Real Estate Builders Association President Edwin Zamora said the BWD’s proposal is counter-productive. He said along with progress, comes development. He said naturally, service providers like the BWD has to provide the demand.

Zamora said installation of rainwater harvesting facility is not feasible in commercial establishments as the water collected is for short-term use only. Zamora said the BWD should hasten the bulk water supply project so it could cope with the demand.

Councilor Elmer Datuin, chair of the city council committee on tourism, also said the BWD’s proposal curtails commerce.

Datuin said the BWD should take its cue from the President’s 2014 State of the Nation Address when he said dams are a more reliable source of water rather than aquifers. The President was referring to the repair of the Kaliwa Dam project in Quezon and the repair of lines of Angat Dam.

“We all know that as our population grows and as our economy continues on its upward trajectory, the country will need a greater water supply in the coming years. We will not wait for a drought. If we were to rely solely on aquifers, then we would only hasten the sinking of land, which would contribute to flooding.”

A water district development sector project under the Local Water Utilities Administration has also been developed to assist water districts all over the country improve their services. 

Datuin said importation of water  via the still pending bulk water supply project remains the best option for Baguio.

Sustainable solution

The BWD knows that a long-term solution to water shortage in Baguio would indeed be to import water , most likely from neighboring municipalities.

Four Manila-based companies have signified intention to conduct a feasibility study.

The BWSP has long been stalled after the winning company was disqualified from pursuing the project.

LGUs response via the CLUP

Hope is not lost however, as the city government is about to approve the Comprehensive Land Use Plan authored by former city council committee on lands chair Isabelo Cosalan Jr.
The CLUP added new classifications in zoning which are watershed and protected forest zone, utilities  zone, planned unit development zone, airport zone, roads zone, slaughterhouse zone, vacant forested areas zone, and heritage sites.

For new structures, Section 23 of the CLUP laid down rules on landscape, heritage, architectural design, and reforestation, which when adopted, and implemented to the letter guarantees there will be no enroachments on watersheds and other vital properties.

For landscape, the CLUP provides that all new buildings shall include rainwater harvester which will be used for flushing, watering plants, and cleaning.

It also requires housing plots fronting roads to plant at least three trees of low height at maturity and native or endemic plants to preserve biodiversity in the city.

The CLUP encouraged owners of buildings within the central business district that could not plant along the roadside to green their rooftops to preserve ambient air quality and for housing plots fronting roads that require a fence to have a uniform design with standards provided by the City Engineering Office.

It also provides that natural waterways shall be preserved and required utility companies to install underground wires.

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:: Confronting the challenge of env’tal governance
:: Urban migration: A threat to the Summer Capital
:: Delineate business interests from ancestral land claims
:: Designing the present and future Baguio
:: Saving the Balili River: Count me in
:: The ‘little’ Paradaans you and I can save
:: Traffic: Is there any way out?
:: Curing the ills of overdevelopment
:: Preserving Bued River; Protecting a heritage site

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