In light of the water shortage that hit Metro Manila and Rizal, the ire of its residents and the attention of all forms of media were fixed on Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and its concessionaires—Maynilad and Manila Water. While accusing fingers pointed to the mismanagement on the part of Manila Water and the bypass gate that favored Maynilad, the MWSS management was not spared from getting into hot water (pun intended). Why didn’t the water administrator sanction the Ayala-led company?

Clearly, however, other factors contributed to the metro’s waterless situation, including the degradation of the watersheds that protect the dams where water is sourced.

Roman V. Corpuz, head of the Watershed Management Division of the MWSS, explains that watersheds play an important role in providing ample amount of clean water to households. “When you have a good cover of trees, shrubs, and vines in the watersheds, you have fewer quality issues with the water from the dams. You’ll have more of it readily available.” Thus, the urgent need to improve the conditions of the protective ridges around the dams.

Fortunately, the MWSS started a related advocacy two years ago through the Annual Million Trees Challenge (AMTC). Launched on June 25, 2017, on Arbor Day—a day for planting trees and ornamental plants—the water regulatory board surpassed its target and planted 1.3 million seedlings with its partners, which include Maynilad, Manila Water, Angat Hydropower, government agencies like the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Non Governmental Organizations like World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Bantay Kalikasan, and other socio-civic groups like the Rotary District 3780 and the UP Mountaineers.

“The objective [of this initiative] is to protect and rehabilitate Angat, Ipo, La Mesa, Umiray, Laguna Lake, Marikina River, especially Ipo which is really degraded,” Corpuz says.

Trees regulate the flow of rainwater. With their bark, stems, and leaves, they cushion the water’s impact on the soil. Consider the force of rain straight from the clouds without trees or any form of vegetation to pad its fall down to the ground; it will surely erode the soil. Because the trees also absorb or consume some of the rainwater, they also have the ability to protect the soil from erosion. “They act as a sponge, thus, they conserve water, protect topsoil and enhances infiltration,” explains Corpuz.

He adds that more trees in the watersheds lessen turbidity or the cloudiness of water. As trees impede running water, it is less likely that solid contaminants will be carried to the dam. With better clarity, it will take less time to treat the water that gets to our faucets, thus ensuring the availability of this precious resource.

Another advantage of a forested and well-conserved watershed is the decrease of the evaporation of collected water in the reservoir. It is important to help minimize water vapor because every millimeter of evaporated water is equivalent to 10 cubic meters of water
lost or 10,000 liters per hectare of reservoir.

“The evaporation rate of La Mesa Dam is 6-9 millimeters. That’s 60,000 to 90,000 millimeters, multiply that by 500 because La Mesa has about 500 hectares. That’s how much water is lost. A person’s per capita consumption is 120 liters per day. You can just imagine how many people could have used it instead,” says Corpuz.

In AMTC’s its first year, the water agency and its partners were able to plant 1.3 million trees in the watersheds. In its second year, however, the number declined to 1.1 million, which is still above its 1 million target.

With the success of the previous years, however, the AMTC Committee agreed to raise the bar a notch higher. For one, the project now includes the Kaliwa watershed in Quezon and Rizal provinces.

Aside from expanding its scope, AMTC 2.0 is updating its approach from direct planting to the concept called Adopt-an-Area. More than counting the trees planted, the challenge is for the partner agencies to rehabilitate and protect the land assigned to them.
In previous years, there was no parameter to measure the effectiveness of the project. This time, there will be actual monitoring and assessment of the initiative to make it sustainable. The partners are encouraged to care for the trees in their space for three years—the length of time it takes a tree to grow roots and later, survive without maintenance. The survival rate of the assigned area is pegged at 80%.

According to Corpuz, native trees like narra and kupang are preferred while fruit-bearing trees are discouraged as these invite informal settlers to live in the area.

The beauty of the AMTC is that it doesn’t solely protect the watershed, which in itself is a huge help to deliver adequate water needs of Metro Manila residents, and in general, to nature, but it also provides livelihood to the Dumagats who are living near the dams. These indigenous people earn a living by growing seedlings and selling them to the conservationists. As such, the IPs are now considered part of this worthy and significant endeavor.

“More than the output, we would like to measure the effectiveness of this project through outcome-based and science-based parameters such as the water quality and other related factors. With our partners in this watershed conservation, we hope to achieve our goals,” says Corpuz. — RHODA OSALVO


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