In the pursuit of sustainable water supply management, the Baguio Water District (BWD), in 2014, undertook an initiative that aimed to enhance the underground water recharge rate: The construction of recharge ditches or longitudinal canals within Baguio City’s watersheds.
The water distribution uti-lity has embarked on the initiative upon the observation that the natural underground water re-servoirs fall short of meeting the ideal recharge rate.
Through the ditches strategically constructed within the watersheds, the BWD seeks to enhance water infiltration into the ground. The approach is seen to promote the replenishment of underground sources and is particularly helpful in critical cities like Baguio, where water scarcity continues to pose significant threats to its environment and most especially, its people.
Over the past decades, Baguio’s vital ecological lifeline, the watersheds, has been under a constant man-made attack. The encroachment of these resources, where the BWD sources the bulk of the water it distributes to households and commercial establishments, remains unabated, despite various efforts to discourage the practice.
For an entity that depends heavily on watersheds, the re-cognition of the significance of this vital resource goes beyond preventing encroachment. Innovations, not necessarily sophisticated ones, are needed to ensure a sustainable water supply.
It cannot be emphasized that the degradation of watersheds can lead to detrimental consequences, including reduced water availability, increased flooding, and compromised ecosystem health. The construction of ditches within watersheds stands as one of the proactive and innovative approaches to enhance aquifer recharge and address water scarcity.
Helping underground resources recharge
Because of the observation that Baguio’s underground water sources have a hard time recovering, the BWD undertook the initiative to help nature cope with the man-made disruptions that adversely affected the surface water’s ability to seep into the ground to recharge the city’s underground water sources.
The reduced permeability of water is attributed to the fact that Baguio has transformed into a concrete jungle where rainwater is prevented from naturally infiltrating into the ground.
“We have observed that our underground sources are ha-ving a hard time recovering despite the rainy days or the wet season. When we conducted some measurements, we were not satisfied with the rate of recovery, which is why we decided to undertake the construction of canals within the watershed to help enhance the recharging rate of our underground sour-ces,” said BWD General Ma-nager Salvador Royeca.
“We no longer have a 100 percent recovery rate. At pre-sent, we are happy with a reco-very rate of 80 percent,” Royeca said.
Recovery rate is the speed at which an underground source refills after water is drawn from it.
Currently, the BWD is maintaining 161 recharge ditches in the three major watersheds in the city – 22 at the Busol, 100 at the Buyog, and 39 at Camp 8.
The canals in watersheds are engineered to fulfill specific functions. The landscape, hydrological patterns, and potential environmental impacts are considered. The proper design, maintenance, and management of ditches are essential to ensure their effectiveness in achieving desired outcomes without causing unintended negative consequences.
In the case of the BWD, the man-made canals or the recharge ditches are specifically designed to manage the flow of water to enhance underground sources, and an assessment is done first before ditches are cultivated.
“Hindi pwedeng hukay ang hukay sa watersheds. We choose the areas to be cultivated because we have to consider the water permeability. If the water is retained or does not seep into the soil, the canals will just become breeding grounds for mosquitoes,” Royeca said.
He said the BWD spends P500,000 a year to maintain the canals, which, aside from helping manage water flow, also serve as firebreaks during summer.
Maintenance of the canals does not need technology or equipment, only manual labor, but nonetheless, it requires budget allocation. Royeca said there are 30 personnel in charge of cleaning and recultivating the recharge ditches.They are employed by the BWD on a contract of service basis.
The recharge ditches within the watershed are only one of the practical interventions of the BWD to ensure a sustainable water supply. Although the responsibility of maintaining the canals is mainly lodged with the water firm, Royeca said it is not only the BWD that is benefitting from the initiative.
During his appearance before the city council in July where he presented BWD’s programs and contingency plans for the El Niño, Royeca said the recharge canals they are maintaining also benefit the operators of private wells who depend on underground water resources.
Harvesting and storing rainwater
While a lot of innovative solutions are being advocated to address the perennial concern of water scarcity in the city, a versatile and practical approach has always been available but is yet to be maximized – harvesting and storing rainwater, for later use or as a means of easing the demand for treated water.
At present, Baguio’s daily water demand of 45,000 cubic meters while the BWD’s production capacity is pegged at 44,000 cubic meters. This supply-demand gap underscores the urgency of exploring innovative solutions.
The adoption of rainwater harvesting facilities is a pro-mising solution that holds great potential.
This approach not only complements the existing water infrastructure of the BWD but also offers a sustainable means of bridging the gap between water supply and demand.
Rain basins act as reservoirs that collect rainwater runoff, allowing the city to harness and store water during rainy periods for use during drier times. Rainwater harvesting facilities operate on a simple yet effective principle. Rainwater, which would otherwise be lost through runoff, is captured from rooftops, pavements, and other surfaces and then conveyed through a system of gutters, downspouts, and pipes to storage tanks or reservoirs. The harvested rainwater can be used for several purposes. The stored water can even be potable with proper treatment.
The BWD has been championing the construction of additional rainwater harvesting facilities to enhance the city’s water resilience. One of the notable rainwater harvesting installations is the rehabilitated Sto. Tomas rain catch basin with a capacity of 700,000 cubic meters.
Royeca said the BWD is embarking on the development of three rain basin projects at the Busol Watershed with a total capacity of 100,000 cubic meters.
“We are asking for funding from the national government for the construction of additional rainwater harvesting facilities,” he said.
The adoption of rainwater harvesting facilities extends beyond the BWD and individual households.
Commercial establishments, which have large demand for water are also being encouraged to install their own rainwater harvesting systems to contribute to the effort of easing the demand for treated water.
For the BWD, the harvested water is used to augment the supply during the driest months. Royeca said the rain basins could cope with the demand for three to four months.
At the city council, Royeca has asked for the passage of an ordinance to collect an environmental fee from tourists, which could be used for the construction of rainwater harvesting facilities in the city.
Other pursuits to meet the demand, address concerns
The BWD is eyeing to increase its production capacity by 8,000 to 10,000 cubic meters. Royeca said in the next years, the utility aims to producean additional 24,000 cubic meters per day.
Among other programs to further boost its water supply capabilities, the BWD has set its sights on drilling 10 deep wells annually. Royeca said the utility has completed the deepwell projects in Gibraltar and Zigzag at Kennon Road that can produce additional 2,600 cubic meters. The other drilling projects are in Richwood, Ferguson; Ramsey, Bakakeng; Montinola Subdivision along Kisad Road; South Drive II deepwell; and Loakan. These projects are expected to be realized within the year.
For the areas that do not have viable water sources, such as Quezon Hill, Quirino Hill, Pinsao, and other elevated barangays, the BWD has laid out augmentation pipelines to bring water to these areas.
Royeca said the BWD remains open to bulk water supply projects, seen as one of the solutions to address the ever-increasing demand for water in Baguio. The challenge, however, is the willingness or the ability of residents to pay the cost.
Manila Water, for instance, has offered to supply BWD 20,000 cubic meters per day at P99 per cubic meter for three years to be increased to P186 per cubic meters. Royeca said the BWD is willing to accept the proposal if it does not consider the cost that residents would have to pay.
Currently, the minimum rate BWD imposes on residential consumers is P37 per cubic meter.
Royeca said BWD is not closing its doors for bulk water supply project proposals at a cost that would not be too much of a burden for the consumers.
LGU initiatives to help secure water supply
The city government has passed various pieces of legislation in response to the call for a concerted effort to ensure that water will remain available to meet the growing demand. Among other measures, the city, through the Environment Code, requires proponents of water-related activities, including those engaged in extracting and drilling to secure accreditation, clearance, or permits from the city. The challenge, however, is that water rights, especially those intended for drilling or extraction, are issued at the national level through the National Water Resources Board.
Illegal deepwells have been one of the problems that confront BWD. Royeca said deepwell installation must be regulated to avoid over extraction. Over extraction can lead to the depletion of the aquifers’ water reserves and in some cases may result in land sinking or subsiding.
Among the recent legislation passed in support of the call to come up with practical solutions to address water scarcity is the resolution that encouraged golf courses in the city to put up their own rainwater harvesting facilities.
In Resolution 389, s. 2023, the city government asked management of golf courses such as the Pinewoods Golf & Country Club and Fil-Am Invitational amateur golf tournament co-hosts, Baguio Country Club, and Camp John Hay, to establish their own rainwater harvesting facilities as part of their corporate social responsibility.
“By capturing and storing rainwater for later use, golf courses can reduce their reliance on irrigation and help conserve water and ensure that their water sourcing strategies are sustainable and secure for long-term use,” the resolution stated.
The city government is also considering as a priority project the establishment of a rainwater harvesting facility system within the City Hall premises and other city government properties in line with the city’s water conservation and recycling program.
In Resolution 489, s. 2023, the city council said there is a need to pursue proactive measures to mitigate the impact of possible water shortage as it recognizes the threats to the availability of water resources.
In the face of growing water scarcity, the city is in a situation where innovative and practical solutions are not only desirable but also imperative. As the demand for water outpaces the existing supply, embracing approaches like rainwater harvesting, among other sustainable water management has become crucial.
These measures not only bridge the gap between supply and demand but also pave the way for a resilient, water-secure future.
Innovation and adoption of practical solutions are seen as simple yet effective approaches to addressing the challenge of water scarcity and ensuring the well-being of the more than 360,000 residents of a city that was originally built for 25,000 individuals. ¢