• Farms, power plants may face water cuts

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    IF the water level in Angat dam continues to drop, officials may stop releasing water for irrigation and power generation from May 15 onward, according to the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa).

    Officials of the weather bureau are closely monitoring the reservoir, whose water level dropped to an alarming 182.79 meters early morning of Saturday and then went down further to 182.61 meters as of 6 a.m. on Sunday. Its normal level is 212 meters.

    Once the water level drops to 180 meters, dam officials will cut the water supply for irrigation, Richard Orendan, Pagasa hydrologist, told Manila Times.

    This would adversely affect farmers in the provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga who have been receiving 14 cubic meters of water per second for their crops.

    “We are closely monitoring it because by May 15, we might start cutting the water supply,” Orendan said.

    Once the dam’s water level plunges to critical levels, reservoir officials will also be forced to cut supply for power generation. If this happens, operations of the Angat hydroelectric plant will also be affected.

    Officials fear that the El Niño spell that will start next month will exacerbate the situation. If the plunging water trend in Angat is not reversed, water rationing in Metro Manila may be ordered.

    Angat supplies 90 percent of the water needs of Metro Manila residents.

    The dissipating water in Angat and Magat dams would also greatly affect the agriculture sector but Malacañang on Sunday gave assurances that food supply will not be affected.

    The water level at Magat dam, also a major source of electricity in the Luzon grid, slightly increased because of recent intermittent downpours but it is still below the normal level.

    Magat dam’s instrumentation and forecasting officer Saturnino Tenedor said as of Sunday, the dam’s water elevation was at 169.39 meters.

    ”This is a slight increase from the previous records of below 167 meters,” said Tenedor, also an engineer with National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

    Pagasa said water levels were also below normal as of Sunday in Ambuklao, Binga, Ipo, La Mesa, Pantabangan and San Roque dams.

    Tenedor said the late afternoon downpours in Cagayan Valley region and in Ifugao province have contributed to the increase of water volume at Magat dam’s reservoir along the Ifugao-Isabela border.

    NIA officials, however, said the latest water level at the dam was still below the normal level of 180 meters.

    Magat dam contributes at least 380 megawatts of power, making it the second biggest power provider among Luzon’s hydro-dams.

    It also provides irrigation to some 80,000 hectares of farmlands mostly in Isabela and parts of Cagayan and Quirino provinces.

    A Filipino-Norwegian consortium, SN Aboitiz Power (SNAP), owns and operates the dam’s power component since 2007. But its irrigation facility remains under the jurisdiction of NIA, a government-owned and -controlled corporation.

    Ample supply
    Despite the dire water outlook, Malacañang on Sunday gave assurances that the government is ready to put in place measures to ensure food security.

    Presidential Communication Secretary Heminio Coloma Jr. said food security is one of the priorities of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

    ”Food supply is the main priority of the Department of Agriculture. Under the 2015 budget, there are concrete programs to ensure food supply in case of calamities or disasters such as [crop]diversification,” Coloma noted in a radio interview.

    He said the Cabinet and attached government agencies have been preparing since January, noting that climate change mitigation and adaptation is one of the priority measures under the Philippine Development Plan.

    Coloma added that the DA anticipated the natural calamities that may hit the country.

    He, however, said the public should be informed well of the consequences of El Niño and “ensure discipline in the use of water.”

    Coloma stressed that the water levels in dams supplying potable water to Metro Manila have reached critical levels due to the scorching summer heat.

    ”If this happens, the El Niño phenomenon may last for nine months, or until the first part of 2015,” he pointed out.

    Quoting Science Secretary Mario Montejo, Coloma said the El Niño phenomenon could also result in stronger and more typhoons in the northern part of the country.

    “El Niño could affect the normal rainfall pattern in the country generally resulting in reduced rainfall. Pagasa will be furnishing monthly rainfall outlook for six months for the different parts of the country,” he added.

    ”El Niño causes the behavior of tropical cyclones to become erratic, affecting [their]tracks and intensity. The tropical cyclone tracks are expected to shift northward and [their]intensity could become stronger,” Coloma said.

    The El Niño phenomenon is an anomalous warming of ocean water temperature that affects countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean, bringing drought and triggering abnormal weather patterns.

    Meanwhile, Coloma said President Benigno Aquino 3rd has directed members of his Cabinet to undertake measures to address the effects of El Niño.

    According to him, the weather bureau has been directed to make monthly reports on the rainfall volume across the country.

    ”Concerned agencies are advised to take precautionary measures to mitigate the potential impact of this phenomenon,” he said.

    With CATHERINE S. VALENTE

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