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AGNO RIVER SYSTEM: MODEL FOR NATION-BUILDING (First of Two Parts)


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All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full;

unto the place from whence the rivers come,

thither they return again”•••  Ecclesiastes, 1:7

 

“I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. 

I will give free water from the spring of life to anyone

who is thirsty”•••  Revelation, 21:6

 

Announced The Sunday Punch, Pangasinan’s premier newsweekly last Sunday (10 August):  “The p4.3-billion irrigation component of the San Roque Multi-Purpose Dam (SRMPD), known as the ‘Re-Regulating Pond’ that could irrigate up to 55,000 hectares in Pangasinan, was formally inaugurated last Friday, 08 August.”

Model For Nation-Building

On many occasions in this space and elsewhere, this columnist has likened the consistent development of infrastructures for public use to the difficult step-by-step process of nation-building which must be characterized by UNITY OF PURPOSE, SOLIDARITY IN VALUES, andTEAMWORK ALL THE WAY.

This is similar to the particular case of the harnessing, conservation and management of fresh water of the Agno River System for a variety of personal, community, and national functions.  To accomplish this important purpose for our country’s socio-economic development starting back in the 1990s, the Government mandated the construction of the SRMPD.

Indeed, the now majestic San Roque Multi-Purpose Dam, a towering 200-meter (50 storey) rock, earth and forested structure across the vast Agno River System looks very much like the mighty Cordillera Mountain Range which straddles Northwestern Luzon.  This is as it should be because then President FVR declared at the outset that the dam must be built so that it would be as strong and resilient as if it were part of the Cordilleras – able to withstand an intensity 8.0 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale, the likes of which cracked the Pantabangan Dam in Nueva Ecija in July 1990.

During the country-wide power crisis that reached its peak in late-1992 (having started in 1990), the FVR Administration reviewed earlier environmental data, engineering studies, and financial packages for the Agno River System with the strategic vision not only of a hydropower plant, but also the conservation and efficient use of water for irrigation, human consumption, fish-farming, and other uses for our overall socio-economic benefit

The result before end-1996 – the SRMPD Project under a B-O-T arrangement.  According to this set-up, the San Roque Power Corporation would own and operate the electric power facilities for 25 years, after which ownership would transfer to the Government through the Napocor or its successors.   

The San Roque Multi-Purpose Dam Project

In 1996, Napocor issued B-O-T bid-tender documents, simultaneously mandating upgraded environmental standards and requiring the fulfillment of corporate social responsibilities on the part of the investors toward the affected indigenous highlanders/lowlanders within the project area.   

The San Roque Multi-Purpose Dam Project is aptly named.  "Multiple purpose" means (a) catch-basin for rainwater/surface run-off; (b) storage for needed irrigation; (c) mechanisms for flood control for low-lying neighborhoods; (d) source for enhanced potable water quality; (e) rapid-peaking capacity protection for the Luzon Grid that services the high-tech industrial, medical, and educational markets; (f) reservoir for fish farming; and (g) transport system for locals. 

This emerging stream of benefits for the people of Northwestern Luzon became available upon SRMPD Project’s completion in November 2002 and, in the long-term, augurs well for Philippine social progress and economic development, to include self-sufficiency in rice.  

Continues The Sunday Punch“The ‘Re-Regulating Pond’ will harness and store water releases from the San Roque Dam during its peak power generation to be utilized for irrigation.  It has a pond area of 67 hectares and a holding capacity of some 3.94 million cubic meters that can provide irrigation to about 55,000 hectares of farmland. 

“According to Engr. Reynaldo Mencias, project manager of the Agno River Integrated Irrigation Program (ARIIP), the construction of the re-regulating reservoir started in February 2011 under a soft-loan package of US$89.2-million with the China Export-Import Bank.  It is capable of storing 4 million cubic meters of water being spilled by the hydropower-generating dam that could irrigate up to 55,000 hectares in Pangasinan.  The targeted service area could even be increased to 70,000 hectares – to include some farmlands in San Manuel and Moncada in Tarlac and Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija – once the package for Ambayoan-Dipalo River Irrigation System (ADRIS) and Lower Agno River Irrigation System (LARIS) is fully completed and made operational, Mencias said.

“Presidential Adviser on Food Security and former Senator Francis Pangilinan, who was Guest of Honor and Speaker, stressed the importance of irrigation to farmers, saying that without irrigation, not much could be harvested. 

“He added that when he was Senator and Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, he saw the importance of irrigation which must be prioritized by the Government.  Towns now serviced include San Manuel, Asingan, Sta. Barbara, Binalonan, Urdaneta City, Villasis, Calasiao, Mapandan, Manaoag, Mangaldan, Laoac, and Malasiqui.”

Water The Most Important Commodity

Even as the builders broke ground, the Agno River Basin Development Authority (ARBDA) was created by FVR’s Executive Order in September 1997 as the Government's strategic planning, implementation, monitoring and supervisory agency over the Agno River System – with USec. Ben de Leon of President FVR’s Malacañang staff as its Executive Director.

Let’s recall that water issues used to be looked upon as “infrastructure concerns” with the DPWH as lead agencyEarly on, however, this primary role was transferred by FVR to the DENR by appointing its Secretary Victor Ramos (no relation) as the Government's "Water Czar."  With this innovation, an apex body was formed involving all agencies responsible for water conservation, management, and utilization

Obviously, God’s environment must be protected, natural resources conserved, and climate impacts mitigatedThe productivity of agricultural, forest and aquatic assets, and the assimilative capacity and quality of air/water/land resources must always be balanced and optimized

Already, water is the single most important commodity of the new millennium.  In the 21st century, water will be as fundamental to economic development as oil was for the 20th century, and will continue to underpin prospects for sustained development and environmental viability for many generations to come. 

In the immense task of nation-building facing leaders and citizens, all sectors – government, private business, civil society and local communities – must cooperate closely as stakeholder/partners to ensure the sustainable availability of fresh water, thereby assuring a healthy future for our children, grandchildren, and unborn Filipinos

We have a huge, growing market whose water requirements must be met anytime.  Water used for agricultural purposes will continue to constitute the biggest share in total consumption, even as the share of water for industrial purposes and domestic uses continually increase.

Management, Not Supply, Of Water

Our basic objective is to have enough water where and when it is needed.  Our problem therefore is not really about supply but of “best” management – the efficient adaption of conservation measures and effective delivery of water services. 

This is where the concept of sustainable use becomes essential for Filipinos everywhere.  The abundance of water resources in our beloved Philippines should, therefore, not be a reason for our complacency.  Rather, God’s natural bounties in the Philippines, particularly water, offer our leaders the supreme challenge to ensure that this abundant asset will never reach its point of scarcity, and that users will not complain about the quality of water being delivered. 

The irony here is that so many of our people right now are also suffering from too much rain and flooding.  Filipinos, however, should not put up for too long with a situation of "water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink."

If we must aspire for progress, we must have enough of this basic resource – to drink, drive electric power plants, irrigate agricultural lands, and serve the needs of industries.  And, to have enough water for our immediate and long-term requirements, we must start – not tomorrow, not at some future time – but right now, to use water judiciously.

We must start to identify, conserve and develop underground and surface sources.  We must take the necessary measures to reforest and protect watersheds, and be conservative of the water we use or waste every day.  We must make determined efforts to capture and harvest rain and run-off water. 

WATER – OUR COUNTRY’S LIFEBLOOD

The Agno River System provides the lifeblood of a great portion of Northwestern Philippines and parts of Central Luzon.   It services a major food basket that has been one of our country's richest land-fresh water ecosystems and, in recent years, has become a significant electric power generator.  Its rice production potential could provide self-sufficiency for almost 100,000,000 people – if managed properly.

Long ago, village elders believed our God-blessed habitat entitled its inhabitants to a bountiful future – if they carefully worked the land.

CLEARLY, THE AGNO RIVER CHALLENGE TO BOTH NATIONAL AND LOCAL OFFICIALS IS AS TREMENDOUS AS ITS POTENTIAL FOR GOOD IN TERMS OF FOOD-SUFFICIENCY, ELECTRIC POWER SUPPLY, AND ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY.

LET US BUILD THE PHILIPPINES BLOCK BY BLOCK, STEP BY STEP – EVER ONWARD AND UPWARD, AND NEVER BACKSLIDE!!!

Abangan.  Part II!!!

Please send any comments to fvr@rpdev.org.  Copies of articles are available at www.rpdev.org.

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