Monday, February 22, 2016

La Mesa Dam - Heart of the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa Water System

 La Mesa Dam -  Heart of the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa Water System 
World Water Day March 22, 2016
Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog []
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Miss Grace Velasco 

738 DZRB AM, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday

From the Sierra Madre mountains a series of water reservoirs - Angat, Ipo, La Mesa - makes a picturesque from the air of a living artery of Nature's wondrous water cycle. Clouds form and condense into rain, funneled by their vast watersheds, and stored in man-made dams for the use of millions of residents in Metro Manila.

Profile of the Angat-Ipo-Lamesa water system. Angat Dam completed in 1967 is situated in Norzagaray, Bulacan. It has a total water storage capacity of 850 million cubic meters and supplies 81.4 percent of the total output of the system. Downstream 7.5 kilometers away is Ipo Dam completed in 1984 has a share of 12 percent. It diverts the water to La Mesa Dam, which contributes 3.4 percent.. It is here where water undergoes a series of treatment to make it potable before it is released to thousands of households in Metro Manila. La Mesa is the heart of this complex water system. 

Call it an engineering feat, an ideal profile of ecology, seat of rich biodiversity, source of inspiration of lovers and artists, an attraction to tourists. It's all of the above answer to queries about the complex because water, other than being basic to life, makes the living world awesome and beautiful. It is water that connects the land, air and sea, into a biosphere, the only known living planet in the whole universe.

The La Mesa dam complex gives respite from urban living, a feeling of freedom from skyscrapers and congested traffic, a change from cacophony of sounds to nature's music in the trees and on the lake shore.  Take a deep breath of the clean air, relax and believe in the power of silence and meditation. Take your family to the La Mesa Eco Park on a weekend. It's perfect for biking, hiking, rappelling, hook-and-line fishing, boating, and games of many kinds.There are scheduled educational and cultural shows. It provides in situ and hands-on study of Nature. It is a wildlife sanctuary, the only kind in Metro Manila and suburbs.

As practicum, I would take my students to the La Mesa Eco Park for a whole day field lecture and demonstration. There we would identify the best we can  plants, animals and other organisms of their common and scientific names and their taxonomic classification. We would bring along a microscope and study the plankton and other microorganisms that comprise the living minutiae of the lake and ponds, then photograph them magnified, a technique called photomicrography

There's another field of photography La Mesa Dam offers - Nature Photography. It is not only recording the things and events occurring in nature but capturing the ephemeral wonders of creation like a honeybee pollinating flowers,  Mimosa or makahiya drooping at the slightest touch, a skink darting across a footpath, a big carp suddenly appearing, and many happenings beyond our expectation.  Then there are things of human interests as we commune with nature.  Fishing with bamboo pole, kite flying, picking fruits, napping under a tree, watching birds in the trees and sky, camping under the stars, and many things we don't usually experience in city living. 

To the artist the park is a perfect place for on-the-spot painting, writing poetry and essays, composing songs and prayers. It offers a natural stage for drama with backdrop of trees, water, sky, in dynamic fashion and design which no stage or screen can truly copy. La Mesa is indeed  the heart and soul of a Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained," the essence of the genius John Milton's masterpieces of the same epic titles. 
La Mesa Dam is a 700-hectare water reservoir built to supply water to Metro Manila and its suburbs. It is part of a 2,000-hectare watershed located in Fairview, Quezon City, San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan and Rodriguez in Rizal. The reservoir is elevated at 100 meters above sea level.The La Mesa reservoir occupies 27 square kilometers and can hold up to 50.5 million cubic meters of water. Greater Lagro and adjoining Fairview, both middle class hug the lower limits of the reservoir proper. The La Mesa Eco Park is situated along the spillway of the dam as indicated in this map.

But aerial view and imagery may be deceiving even on a clear day. The water system complex is facing serious problems today, some perilous at that. Authorities and scientists, in spite of protective measures and rehabilitation programs of the government, private sector and citizens, are not comfortable with the condition of the system, raising vital questions and expressing sentiments as to the sustainability of the system to keep up with the ever increasing demand of water, considering the following developments:

First, the watersheds of the three reservoirs are shrinking and thinning as a result of encroachment by illegal loggers and settlers, with kaingin or slash-and-burn planting rampant in certain places, in fact in the heart of the watersheds. The carrying capacity and longevity of the reservoir depends mainly on the integrity of its watershed. A controversial subdivision has been built inside La Mesa Dam.  The issue has not been resolved in spite of its clear violation to law.

Second, pollution coming from land, air and feeder streams is destroying the system and the health of people. Take the case of the Payatas Dumpsite, QC's version of Manila's Smokey Mountain. Because of the closeness of the open dump site, tons and tons of carbon and ash, poisonous and obnoxious gases, and leachate find their way into the reservoirs. A petition initiated by the QC government and residents has been filled with the Supreme Court to close Payatas landfill permanently. (PDI March 2015)

Third, Global Warming has reduced rainfall over the watershed complex in the last two decades or so, necessitating cloud seeding to augment receding water level. Other than depriving the needed rainfall, dry air sucks moisture from both reservoirs and watersheds predisposing the watershed to forest fire, more so during an El Niño year. . 

Fourth, the cyclical El Niño which now occurs on closer interval since industrial times, is causing the water level to plunge to critical level. Unfortunately Metro Manila is virtually dependent wholly on the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa system. Even underground water also falls to critical level during El Niño. By the way 2015 is mild El Nino year which is now being felt nationwide.

Fifth, The price of water is one of the highest in the world. Internet research showed that the minimum consumption per family of 6 in MM is 10 cubic meters per month. At P56.48 per cubic meter, monthly bill is P568.80. This is not all; there are other charges added amounting to P200, which then total to P768.80. Over and above this figure are proposed price adjustments. .

Historically from P4.97 in 1997 to P56.48 per cubic meter today, the increase in charges is an exorbitant 1,036.69 percent. Water prices rose by 45 percent to 61 percent per year for 17 years. In addition, the government extended the water contracts to Maynilad and Manila Water by another 15 years. What went wrong?

Water privatization in Metro Manila began when President Fidel Ramos instructed the government in 1994 to solve what he called the water crisis in Manila by engaging with the private sector.
How did Metro Manila water prices become so expensive and prohibitive? The answer: Monopoly pricing. Consumers have no choice but accept the rates. The other answer: Failure of governance. MWSS abetted and encouraged atrociously high water prices. Tony Lopez, Virtual Reality
Sixth, Angat dam which supplies 81.4 percent of the total output of the system is structurally in danger (Angat Dam: Another tragedy in waiting - Boo Chanco, The Philippine Star, September 10, 2014)

Philvocs warned of a catastrophic disaster unless we move fast to reinforce the structural integrity of Angat Dam. To quote Dr Renato Solidum, Philvocs Executive Director, "Angat dam is an old dam and must be fortified as soon as possible. It is old and still sitting along the West Valley fault line.... A magnitude of 7.2 or an intensity 8 earthquake could spell disaster of unimaginable proportions."

As a background two super typhoons Emma (Welming1867) and Rita (Kading 1978) took the lives of several people and destroyed millions of pesos worth of properties as a result of sudden and uncoordinated release of flood water from the dam. We can imagine a worse scenario, as Philvocs warned, had the dam given way to the tremendous force. It reminds us of the movie Evan Almighty, a modern day Noah who was commanded by God to save the people from flood caused by the collapse of a poorly constructed dam. Unlike the bible which had a tragic ending the movie exposed corruption of some politicians.  

La Mesa Dam has grown old through the years of faithful service. It is like a heart that is already tired and weak, exacerbated by the poor condition of the very system it is a part of and which it serves. Which too, has passed its prime. Time, incessant use. misuse and abuse have altogether taken their toll, and will be taking more to the brink of disaster. The system has long been diagnosed and the finding is clear with a stern warning.

In physiology the heart is forced to work harder as the system declines. while the body becomes idle, overweight, and indulgent to the Good Life characteristic of our postmodern times where affluence has virtually no end. Its demand far exceeds supply violating reciprocity which is governed by a simple rule: what is taken must be returned - the basis of the principle of sustainability. The bounty and beauty of nature must be preserved and conserved. This is the greatest heritage we can bequeath to our children and children's children.~ 
Overlooking the La Mesa Lake
La Mesa Water Treatment  Plant
Located in Novaliches, Quezon City, La Mesa Dam was built in 1929. Water from the Novaliches Portal is conveyed through three open channels, namely La Mesa Treatment Plants 1 and 2, as well as the Balara Treatment Plant. Photos show normal water level, and excess water spilling over the dam and flows down the Tullahan River. 
The La Mesa Ecopark is famous for its natural beauty and terrain, a favorite spot for family picnic, educational and entertainment programs, hiking and and biking.  

La Mesa is home of this rare osprey (Pandion haliaetus). Now and then you may see this regal bird patrolling the lake.  I have seen it a number of times closely flying over Lagro. In my research it is a large raptor, reaching more than 60 cm (24 in) in length and 180 cm (71 in) across its wings. It is brown on the upperparts and predominantly greyish on the head and underparts. It is also called fish eagle, sea hawk, river hawk, or fish hawk, a diurnalfish-eating bird of prey

A tranquil pond below the spillway is an excellent fishing ground for enthusiasts. 
A biker negotiates a wooden bridge.

Only with the heart that one can see rightly.*
       On-the-spot Composition at the La Mesa Eco Park
                              by Dr Abe V Rotor 2012

How fleeting time through the generations passed,
     The lake once full, Narcissus idly on its shore,
Waits the nymph Echo passionately in vain ‘til cast,
     Hushing the trees, crying for Narcissus no more.       

If love is blind and lovers cannot see, so with beauty;
     In Song to Celia’s drink to me only with thine eyes
Makes one sober and blind, bathed in prodigious plenty;
     The heart no longer spoken of the soul soon dies.  

Tragedies from wastefulness and indifference tell us
     Often late when the wrath of our own making
Strikes in our sleep and the young innocents.  Aghast!
     Listen, listen to the Four Horsemen thundering. 

* “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Advocacy and Citizens' Action

  1. Use water wisely, limit consumption.
  2. Plant trees, support the Greening Movement. 
  3. Report illegal activities in the reservoir and watershed such as kaingin.
  4. Support the move to close permanently the Payatas landfill. 
  5. Strongly recommend reduction of water bill through Congress, local government leaders,  civic and church organizations.
  6. Reduce pollution, do not burn plastic.  Plastic emits DIOXIN, the most poisonous man-made substance that can be carried by wind and rain.which may find its way to our water supply. 
  7. For those near and around the watersheds of the system, make your backyard an "extension of the watershed," and a wildlife sanctuary, too.    
  8. Strongly support the "Save the Angat Dam" before anything catastrophic happens. 
  9. Love Nature, take time out from office school and work. Develop Reverence for life a personal philosophy.
  10. Enjoin the family, church, and community in ensuring every citizen the right for clean, available and affordable water, as embodied in the Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.~      

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