Issue of June 10, 2018
     
NEWS
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Mt. Province
 
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Is there hope for Balili River?

“If there is a need for us in the DENR-EMB to declare war against these polluters, I will do it. I will rock the boat. I am already two years here and the honeymoon is over. I am not here for nothing. I will make things happen. My mission in coming here is to implement the law.”

These were the statements of Environmental Management Bureau-Cordillera OIC Regional Director Reynaldo S. Digamo when he admonished members of the Water Quality Management Area (WQMA) governing boards of Balili River System and Bued River System during their meeting on May 24. Digamo was not satisfied with the performances of the two governing boards in relation to the implementation of policies and monitoring of programs for the protection and rehabilitation of the said rivers, as levels of fecal coliform continuously escalate since 2013. He considers the palliative measures undertaken not enough.

A WQMA governing board is a multi-sectoral, inter-agency, and multi-discipline policy-making body and program implementer which prepares action plan for the protection and rehabilitation of water bodies designated as WQMAs. Its creation is mandated by Republic Act 9275 or the Clean Water Act where local government units are expected to submit compliance scheme, subject to review and approval of the governing board. None of the concerned LGUs submitted a compliance scheme since Balili River was designated as a WQMA on January 24, 2013 and Bued River on April 18, 2016.

Digamo said that Balili River needs concrete plans from stakeholders which are mandated to implement the law to address the problems. He observed that plans have been prepared since then but remained as plans.

He challenged the group saying, “When do we want to implement that? We want to put concrete actions on the ground so that plans will move. I think the whole country was scared when the attention was called to the level of coliform in Boracay; it’s just a matter of hundred thousands, but what we have here in Baguio and La Trinidad are billions. We were nearing trillion in 2017. Do we understand the implication of that? And it seems that nobody cares.”

DENR Asec. for Field Operations-Luzon Joselin Marcus E. Fragada who attended the meeting said the alarming coliform level reaching billions is “a jurisdiction problem, actually even bigger than the problems in Boracay.”

He added, “Kadalasan nga po kasi, naituturo ang DENR, but if you look at the laws clearly, vested po yan sa iba’t-ibang ahensya, sa iba’t-ibang LGU, sa Baguio Water District, sa mga establishments. But still, we are given the chance and opportunity to make things right, as early as now.”

The Balili River was identified by the DENR as one of the 19 priority rivers in the country for rehabilitation and monitor its water quality and eventually bring back to its original classification in 1990 as Class “A”. A river classified as Class “A” is intended as a source of potable water supply requiring conventional treatment to meet the latest national standard for drinking water.

Records of water quality monitoring of Balili River, as to fecal coliform revealed that all the 21 sampling stations in Baguio City and La Trinidad, Benguet failed to pass the DENR water quality guideline value for Class “A” freshwater as set by Department Administrative Order 2016-08 which is <1.1 Most Probable Number (MPN). Data from 2013-2017 showed that fecal coliform ranged from millions to billions MPN. Consistently high values were monitored from the Pico Bridge at K.m. 5, bridge near Balili Barangay Hall, Benguet State University Compound Housing near a day care center, convergence at Bell Church Entrance, all in La Trinidad, Benguet; creek coming from Sto. Nino Private Road, Sagudin River coming from M. Roxas Private Road, the bridge adjacent to Imelda Village Barangay Hall, and creek inside Teachers Camp near the Admin Bldg., all in Baguio City.

Water quality monitoring in Bued River showed that all 28 water sampling stations in Baguio City, Tuba and Itogon, Benguet failed the guideline value as the fecal coliform reached millions too, particularly at the Bridge in Sarok, Camp 7. The presence of fecal coliform is an indicator that human or animal waste is present.

Baguio has a sewage treatment facility with a capacity to treat 8,500 cubic meters of wastewater a day but is now receiving more than 12,000 cubic meters. The overloading of the facility compromised its efficiency so that the effluent discharged into the Balili River still fails to meet the DENR standard. It was designed to receive only domestic wastewater, but it also receives wastewater from the slaughterhouse, public market, and sludge from septic tanks.

City Mayor Mauricio Domogan who was present at the meeting, informed the city’s plan to expand the sewage treatment plant in Sanitary Camp to meet existing demand. Initial activities have commenced, including rehabilitation of sewer line. The city has prepared its local sewerage and septage master plan which full implementation will be realized in 2035.

DENR Regional Director Ralph C. Pablo reiterated the order of Sec. Roy Cimatu to clean the waters of the country.

As forward actions, the City Government of Baguio, Department of Public Works and Highways, and Baguio Water District will meet and explore possible options for sewerage and septage concerns with Baguio Country Club General Manager Anthony de Leon. Concerned LGUs and agencies are expected to submit to EMB-Cordillera plans of action relative to their tasks required in RA 9275. Meanwhile, the EMB-CAR has scheduled a three-day workshop on June 20 to 22 to assist concerned LGUs on the preparation of compliance scheme.

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