The Department of Agriculture is planning to reactivate the inter-agency El Niño Task Force to strengthen measures against the expected drought next year to the agriculture and fisheries sector.
Under the 2023 El Niño Mitigation and Adaptation Plan, the DA will roll out strategies that aim to lessen the impact of the El Niño phenomenon on the agriculture and fishery industries and restore productivity in affected areas.
The government intends to put up more water-related infrastructure such as hydroelectric power plants, flood control projects, and irrigation systems. An overall plan to change the way water supply is acquired will also be explored, according to the DA.
This developed as Rep. Paolo Duterte of Davao City on Wednesday pushed for the passage of a measure that aims to establish the Department of Water Resources (DWR) as the lead agency tasked to secure the country’s supply of water and effectively manage the delivery of the vital resource.
At the same time, Duterte said the measure should include the creation of a Water Trust Fund (WTF) in the Bureau of the Treasury (BTr), which the proposed DWR can tap to fund water sustainability projects.
House Bill 3727, which Duterte filed with Benguet Rep. Eric Yap, seeks to address concerns over a looming water and sanitation crisis in the country by creating the DWR and the Water Regulatory Commission (WRC).
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration had earlier said that El Niño may persist until 2024.
Based on the six-month rainfall forecast data of the DOST-PAGASA last March 22, at least 16 provinces in Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, the CARAGA Administrative Region, and CALABARZON, particularly the province of Quezon, will be affected by the prolonged dry season.
Part of the government’s master plan to address El Niño is to save the vulnerable areas through appropriate water management, while irrecoverable areas will be rehabilitated.
The DA will likewise maximize water production in non-threatened areas, with massive information dissemination across locations to be undertaken.
To ensure water supply will be managed efficiently during the dry spell, the DA encourages the adaptation of the alternate wetting and drying (AWD) method.
Through this technology, farmers may reduce the use of irrigation water without sacrificing the yield. Under AWD, irrigation water is applied a few days after the ponded water has been used up.
Water systems including irrigation canals, diversion dams, and small-scale irrigation projects will be developed and/or rehabilitated even before the start of El Niño, which will be made available and accessible to farmers.
The government will also impose an irrigation scheduling system and other water-saving practices as well as distribute farm production-related machinery equipment such as power water sprayers.
To address the inevitable consequences of El Niño in the long term, the DA will establish more small water impounding projects and diversion dams and strictly implement water management activities. Moreover, pumps and engine sets will be positioned for tail-end areas.
Cloud Seeding Operations will be conducted to augment rainfall. The technique involves the manual seeding of clouds with salt to modify the type and amount of precipitation that will fall on dams.
The Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Unit (DRRMU) has also set up a mitigation and adaptation plan that includes the promotion of drought-tolerant and early maturing crop varieties, organic fertilizer to increase retention of soil moisture, the adjustment of planting calendar and crop shifting while the DA has already identified hybrid rice varieties and other high-value crops that can be planted during the dry spell.
Duterte said that under HB 3727, remittances from non-tax revenues related to water management, including raw water pricing, permit fees, registration fees, supervision, and regulation enforcement fees, filing fees, testing fees, and other service income from the use of water resources will form part of the WTF.
The WTF “shall be accounted separately from the government’s general revenues and shall be automatically appropriated to the [DWR],” the bill states.
Duterte said proceeds from the WTF will be utilized for water development, water sanitation and wastewater treatment and management, and water sustainability programs and projects authorized under the measure.
The bill provides that a maximum of 10 percent of the total income generated from raw water extraction shall be given as a share of the concerned local government unit (LGU) or indigenous people (IP) community which owns or has jurisdiction over the specific areas of land where the raw water was sourced.
“There are various government agencies battling this recurring water and sanitation [crises], and there is a need now more than ever to consolidate efforts to avoid duplication of functions, improve public service delivery, and prudently manage limited government resources to address this pressing concern,” Duterte and Yap said in filing HB 3727.
Duterte said establishing the DWR should not be dismissed as merely an added layer to the bureaucracy because its creation is not only crucial to averting a water and sanitation crises but is also essential in ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page in ensuring the effective management of the country’s water resources.
Improving the management of water resources covers not only its supply to consumers, but also to the agriculture sector, which the government has committed to support to guarantee food security, Duterte said.
Duterte also pointed out that efficient water resources management is a critical factor in protecting the health of Filipinos by ensuring their access to safe, drinking water.
Citing studies done by the global nonprofit organization water.org, Duterte and Yap said more than 3 million people in the country rely on unsafe and unsustainable water sources, while 7 million lack access to improved sanitation.
Duterte and Yap said the creation of the DWR ensures that a primary agency is on top to identify, plan, oversee, and manage the efficient use of the country’s water resources.
The DWR will also be the lead agency responsible for the planning and policy formulation toward the attainment of universal access to a safe, adequate, affordable, and sustainable water supply, as well as improved sanitation services for all Filipinos, the two lawmakers said.
HB 3727 also seeks to create the WRC and its regulatory units under the DWR to oversee the functions and responsibilities of all water service providers.
As an independent, quasi-judicial body, the WRC is authorized, among other powers, to impose and collect annual levies, fees, and surcharges on licensed water supply and sanitation services.
Under the bill, the DWR shall exercise administrative supervision over the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), National Irrigation Administration (NIA), and the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA). The Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) shall be transferred from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to the DWR.
Moreover, the functions and personnel of the NWRB, and other boards, offices, divisions, bureaus, and programs related to the management, planning, surveying, and monitoring of water resources shall be subsumed under the DWR.