THE House of Representatives is expected to approve on final reading by January a bill that seeks to establish a Water department, Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda of the second district of Albay 2nd said Monday.

Mr. Salceda, who chairs the ways and means committee and is part of the technical working group studying the creation of the Department of Water Resources Management, said that the chamber is “working very hard” to pass the measure.

“We want pasado na siya sa third (to pass the bill on third reading) by January,” Mr. Salceda said in chance remarks to reporters on the sidelines of the technical working group meeting.

He added, “…Baka ma-report na itong substitute bill (We might report out a substitute bill) by the first week of November when we return. So we are working very hard. Yung meeting ngayon (Today’s meeting) is more formal, but actually there have been a lot of exchanges and consultations.”

The Department of Water Resources Management will be the primary agency for planning, policy formulation, appropriation, utilization, development, conservation, and protection of water resources.

The bill also seeks to establish a Water Regulatory Commission which will be an independent, quasi-judicial regulatory body under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The commission will have the power to impose price controls, invalidate contracts, and impose fines and penalties. It will also be the primary agency for the registration and licensing of all water supply and sanitation service providers.

Mr. Salceda, who also filed a similar bill, said that one of the plans for the department is to fold in the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) as an attached agency.

Nung una sabi ko wag muna isama NIA kasi more on agriculture siya. Kaso kailangan din natin ng NIA, kasi marami po sa mga multi-purpose facilities katulad na pinagkukunan ng tubig natin, yung [La Mesa] Eco dam ay ginagamit sa kuryente, sa agri[culture], ginagamit din as domestic water, so ang importante sa amin na yung mga multi-purpose asset facilities, water assets ay mapunta dito sa Department of Water (At first I did not want NIA to be included because its role is more focused on agriculture. But we need NIA, because many of the facilities are dual purpose for agriculture as well as water. We consider it important that the Department of Water handle such multi-purpose facilities like La Mesa Dam,” Mr. Salceda said.

He said the creation of the department will help the government efficiently utilize the country’s water resources.

Marami tayong tubig actually pero hindi natin nagagamit gawa nga po ng hindi nama-manage kaya kailangan ng Department of Water. Like yung mga flood waters, yung mga tubig sa mga lakes, although nagagamit pero hindi systematically nao-optimize ang kanilang utilization (There’s a lot of water which we cannot use because it is not properly managed… like flood water or lake water. We do use these resources but not optimally),” Mr. Salceda said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte said in his State of the Nation Address in July that the creation of water agencies are needed, noting that “the El Niño wreaked havoc on the agricultural sector and caused water shortage in the greater Metro Manila area.”

The creation of a Water Department was also part of a wish list of measures submitted by 14 business groups to Congress. — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras