Groups set to check Wawa dam viability

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Manila Water

By Victor V. Saulon

THE AYALA and the Razon groups are set to sign within the week an initial agreement to look into the viability of jointly developing the Wawa dam in Rizal as part of Manila Water Company, Inc.’s new water sources.

“Okay na, I think by Wednesday or Thursday magpipirmahan na ng initial memorandum of understanding to i-proceed nila ang project (It is okay. I think by Wednesday or Thursday they will sign the initial memorandum of understanding to proceed with the project),” Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) Administrator Reynaldo V. Velasco told reporters after a press conference at the agency’s office in Quezon City on Monday.

Mr. Velasco was speaking in his capacity as head of the agency that had pushed the two groups to jointly develop the project. MWSS is tasked to look for new water sources for distribution of Metro Manila’s two water concessionaires.

Separately, Ferdinand M. Dela Cruz, Manila Water president and chief executive officer, said discussions on the Wawa dam project would lead to the formation of a technical working group to study the feasibility of the project.

He said the project would have to secure regulatory approvals.

Kailangang i-defend ‘yan kay (before) Chief Regulator [Patrick Lester N. Ty],” he said in an interview after the press conference.

Mr. Dela Cruz said the project is among the options being considered by Manila Water for approval by the regulator in fixing the base water rate in 2022, or the end of the fourth rate-rebasing period. Capital expenditure projects of the water concessionaire need the approval of the regulator as these are to be recovered from customers.

He was referring to the new base rate for Manila Water’s concession covering the city’s east zone that ranged from P6.22 to P6.50 per cubic meter from 2018 to 2022. The staggered rate hike will be P1.46 on Oct. 15, 2018; P2.00 on Jan. 1, 2020 and another P2.00 on Jan. 1, 2021; and between P0.76 and P1.04 on Jan. 1, 2022.

“The Wawa dam option is factored in that with certain assumptions,” Mr. Dela Cruz said, citing the water delivery point and the raw water price.

Siya (Wawa dam) is the upper range,” he added, referring to the P1.04/cu.m. in 2022.

“I think what needs to happen is we have to accelerate that discussion. And there are other options, which Gen. Velasco is proposing.”

At the same time, MWSS has questioned reports that a Japanese firm has revived a plan to build what it claims to be a cheaper and environment-friendly alternative to the Kaliwa dam project being implemented by the state water agency with a Chinese partner.

“The Kaliwa dam is already a done deal,” MWSS’s Mr. Velasco said in a press conference on Monday at the agency’s head office in Quezon City.

“We have already signed the contract,” he said, adding that the awarding of the project was done through proper bidding.

Earlier on Monday, Global Utility Development Corp. Ltd. (GUDC) presented its case in a press conference on Monday in Quezon City with the hope of gaining government support to its project, involving an intake weir along the Kaliwa River in Tanay, Rizal under a 25-year build-operate-transfer scheme.

“… NEDA decided to fund it (Kaliwa dam) through ODA (official development assistance). NEDA is a multi-agency chaired by the President,” he said, referring to the National Economic and Development Authority.

Wala na ‘yan, approved na nga ng President (That alternative has no chance since the Kaliwa dam project has already been approved by the President). Do you think the President will change his decision? Na-bid na ‘yan, approved by the highest level at the NEDA.”

In December last year, Mr. Velasco said the Philippines and China had signed a loan agreement for the project on Nov. 20. The dam will be built by China Energy Engineering Co. Ltd. starting next year with 2023 as target completion date. The project’s P12.2-billion cost will be funded 85% by China and 15% by MWSS.

Toshikazu Nomura, GUDC chief executive officer, said on Monday his company’s proposal was first presented to the government in 2009 to address Metro Manila’s future water requirement. He claims a memorandum of understanding (MoU) had been inked with the MWSS under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is now House Speaker.

“We propose to build a water source that not only meets the capacities needed by the [MWSS], but also utilizes a long-term, sustainable approach in consideration of communities and livelihoods in the area,” he said.

The revived proposal comes as MWSS is finalizing the required documents before construction starts on Kaliwa dam.

In a hearing at the House of Representatives on Monday, Mr. Velasco said he expects Kaliwa dam’s environmental compliance certificate to be ready by May ahead of a target start of construction in July or August.

The schedule gives Mr. Nomura’s company a narrow window to get the project considered by the government. He declined to say whether legal action is an option as he claims to have a valid MoU with the government.

“Only one [project] has to be considered,” he said, adding that if his company is able to start in June 2019, the weir could be completed within the term of the current administration or by 2022.

Had the project been started in 2009, some areas in Metro Manila would not have experienced the water shortage in the past two weeks, he said.

George B. Campos, GUDC vice-president for business development, said the future requirement of the city calls for only 550 million liters per day (MLD), a need that can be delivered by an intake weir, which shores up water in an area along the river without submerging ancestral lands in water like the proposed Kaliwa dam.

Mr. Campos said the company had submitted its unsolicited proposal to the Office of the President in February. He said the submission was also addressed to MWSS. The two offices had not responded to a request for verification as of late Monday afternoon.

He said with the presentation of its project to the public, the company was hoping to send “very good signals” to the President, prompt him to look closely at the alternative water source, “and give a favorable decision.”

The GUDC officials described a weir as a low head dam that serves as barrier across the horizontal width of a river that alters the flow characteristics of water and results in a change in the height of the river level.

Mr. Nomura said the 7-meter Kaliwa intake weir would be at no cost to the government nor require sovereign guarantees. The facility will require a 16-kilometer tunnel with a diameter of 3.3 meters.

The project cost at a preliminary estimate of $410 million includes the construction of a water treatment plant within the vicinity. In all, the construction period is expected within 36 months. This compares with the cost of Kaliwa dam, or New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project, which GUDC placed at about $800 million for 600 MLD.

Mr. Nomura said he expects Kaliwa dam to cost even more as the expenditure for a water treatment plant has not been factored in.

Mr. Nomura said the GUDC project’s design and plan are more economical and efficient as the height of the intake weir is way below Kaliwa dam’s 73-meter concrete face rockfill. The length of the water diversion tunnel is also shorter than the dam’s 22.5 kilometers with a 4-meter diameter.

He said in the dam and tunnel portion of the project, the intake weir’s cost is 30% cheaper, while 50% cheaper when taken together with the project’s other components such as the water treatment plant.

He also said with the shorter height of the weir, it will not change the natural flow of the Kaliwa River, and will not cause inundation of any residents and natural part in the area.

GUDC is proposing a 100% private finance for its project, including the water treatment plant. The government does not need to bear any financial burden.

Manila Water has committed to improve water supply in Metro Manila’s east zone by the end of the month and targets normalization by end-May.

“They will do their best na mag-increase ng supply ng water for the next one month and they have committed na ‘yung service daw ng water ay magi-improve nitong April at pagdating ng May eh, magno-normalize na,” House Metro Manila Development committee chair Winston T. Castelo of Quezon City’s 2nd district said in an interview, Monday.

The panel was tackling the recent water shortage in Metro Manila after Manila Water suffered a supply deficit due to a decline in the water level of La Mesa Dam and a missed deadline in a major project that was supposed to have increased supply by end-2018.

Manila Water’s Mr. dela Cruz said by end of May, water supply will return to its pre-crisis operation. “End of May, for the same experience as March 5. Pre-crisis po ‘yun. ‘Yun po ‘yung 20 psi (pounds per square inch), 24/7 (service),” he told the panel.

Manila Water also targets further increasing water availability for eight to 12 hours at ground level to 99% of its service coverage by end of March. — with Charmaine A. Tadalan