By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

A MEASLY increase of P16.4 million was approved for the 2024 budget of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) even as water districts grapple with an annual water system loss of 30%.

While the LWUA’s approved budget of P364.43 million for next year is an increase from this year, it still stands less than half of its P828.55-million budget in 2022.

To note, the LWUA oversees 532 water districts, of which 244 have high levels of non-revenue water (NRW). This also includes water that is not billed or is lost through leaks or illegal connections.

In August, LWUA Chairman Ronnie L. Ong said water districts yielded an average NRW of 29.34%, which results in a 488-million cubic meter water loss annually or more than half the 850-million cubic meter capacity of Angat Dam.

Reducing the NRW would help lower production costs and water supply interruptions, which could help reduce water rates, Mr. Ong explained.

That is why the LWUA’s budget must be sufficient to address water leakages amid the emerging El Niño weather pattern.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) announced in July the onset of El Niño. It estimates a more than 56% probability of a moderate to strong El Niño in the fourth quarter of this year.

Also in July, PAGASA predicted that 36 provinces may experience dry spells or below normal rainfall conditions for three months, noting that the El Niño phenomenon may persist until January 2024.

This poses an extended effect on water supply as summer sets in and rainfall expected to replenish the dams may set in by June or July next year.

Mr. Ong also said that some water districts have pipes made of asbestos — a toxic substance — that were installed way back during the Japanese occupation in the mid-20th century.

The House of Representatives previously committed to help the agency reduce its water system loss.

“The ongoing deliberations of the House committee on appropriations on the proposed P5.768-trillion budget for 2024 is the perfect opportunity to explore solutions, including the rehabilitation of water supply systems and modernization of the LWUA,” Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said in August.

The LWUA is a specialized lending institution that promotes, finances and oversees the development of water supply systems in cities and municipalities outside Metro Manila.

State auditors previously flagged the LWUA for unused subsidy funds from the National Government for 2009 to 2017 worth P140.66 million for projects that have been completed or yet to start had not been returned to the Bureau of Treasury (BTr).

The LWUA is an attached agency of the Department of Public Works and Highways.