For all its lofty ambitions to become the Philippines next metropolis, it looks like Metro Cagayan de Oro is slipping behind the curve in providing that most essential of ingredients for a booming megalopolis: water.
Challenges’ resulting from increasing population growth foresees a need for sustainable infrastructure that is high performing, cost-effective, resource-efficient and environmentally-friendly. (UCD, 2015)
In the construction and physical and organizational structures that enable cities to function, meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the capabilities of the future generations is paramount. (Tiwari, 2016).
The cash-strapped COWD previously acknowledged the Mt. Everest it had to climb just to keep up with the booming demand for water in the rapidly expanding capital city of Northern Mindanao which is further expected to become a metropolis in the next five years.
Metropolitan Cagayan de Oro is envisioned to be the Philippines’ 4th Metropolitan Center by 2025 as a major gateway & trans-shipment hub, and key educational center with potential growth in the banana industry, rubber, bamboo, cacao, coco coir, coffee, agribusiness, and tourism under the 2017-2022 Philippine Development Plan.
With a total population of 1, 219, 005 as of 2015 and total land area of 2,221, 13 square kilometers, Metro CDO includes Cagayan de Oro and El Salvador cities in Misamis Oriental, 11 municipalities in Misamis Oriental (Initao, Gitagum, Libertad, Laguindingan, Alubijid, Opol, Tagoloan, Villanueva, Jasaan, Claveria, and Balingasag) and 6 municipalities in Bukidnon (Manolo Fortich, Baungon, Sumilao, Malitbog, Libona, and Talakag).
COWD relies on its water sales to fund its operations and implement improvements and expansion projects, and does not receive any subsidy from local or national government.
Even an extension of service to a barangay like Indahag requires a capital outlay of P300-million, which is just beyond its means since COWD still has outstanding loans with the Development Bank of the Philippines.
To address these issues, COWD entered into a joint venture company, Cagayan de Oro Bulk Water Inc. (COBI) with MetroPac Water Investments Corporation (MWIC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Metro Pacific Investments Corporation to undertake the supply of bulk treated water to address the increasing demand of Cagayan de Oro City.
The P2.8-Billion project involves the construction of new water transmission lines and rehab of the Camaman-an Reservoir, the delivery of 40 MLD of treated bulk water to Cagayan de Oro’s east service area within a year, and later to the western service area which at the time exclusively relied on deep wells for its water supply.
A 3-stage road map stressing the importance of constructing and maintaining a sustainable water supply was presented by MPW during the JV signing,
Stage 1 covers the delivery of 60MLD to the Western Sector, and putting COWD’s Cala-anan production deep wells on standby, and its Balulang wells and booster pumping station to be operated intermittently.
For Stage 2, 60MLD would be delivered to the Western Sector and 20MLD to the East. Some of COWD’s wells and booster pumps in Macasandig will be placed on an intermittent operation, while bringing water to Upper Gusa and Upper Carmen, and elevated subdivisions like Alegria Hills by installing additional transmission lines and starting service to Indahag through a sub-system.
By Stage 3, with 60MLD is being delivered to the West and 40MLD to the east, ground water extraction would be reduced further by placing COWD’s wells in Agusan and Tablon on standby, and further dialing down operations at its Macasandig wells and booster station.
And how has things gone since then?
COBI is so far supplying an additional 60 MLD to the West Service Area and 20 MLD to the East/Central Areas. COWD requested a deferment of the next 20MLD since its finances are adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
COWD has 4 deep wells in Calaanan producing 9.1 MLD and another 7 in the Balulang area producing 33.45 MLD for a total of 42.55 MLD that would have been placed on ice once the 60 MLD of treated bulk water is sustained. However, recent COWD production reports actual volume from these wells actually declined from 34 to 33 MLD.
For its Central Service Area, COWD has 11 deep wells in Macasandig producing 63 MLD so it’s feasible to put these on intermittent operation since 60 MLD of treated bulk water would be coming to the Western Sector and another 20 MLD to the east, leaving a quite substantial buffer to serve the new areas and improve service to existing ones.
Not the least, the 114 MLD water demand in the East Service Area is barely covered by its 17 production wells in Barangays Bugo, Agusan, Tablon, Macasandig and Nazareth.
Facility improvements have enabled the COWD to increase its bulk water supply to its East Service Area from zero to 20MLD and supply from production wells from 86 to 91MLD. With the commissioning of a new pipeline, total supply has risen 40 MLD to date.
In toto, bulk water supply to the entire service area increased from 40 to 80MLD while production wells volume similarly rose from 120 to 124MLD, resulting in a net gain of 44MLD (+27.5%) to 204MLD. These improvements have enabled COWD to increase its current number of concessionaires to over 100,000,
Despite this however, this stage would only place 3 of COWD’s deep wells in Tablon and Agusan with a total maximum production of 25 MLD on standby and still keep another six of its deep wells in Bugo, with a total extraction of 26 MLD operating.
All told, the 3-stage plans to shut down or minimize operations for 130MLD of COWD’s 155 MLD maximum deep well production capacity over the period or 84% of the current capacity of its 32 deep wells.
Well and good! But it doesn’t speak well of COWD’s commitment to a sustainable water supply with the imminent rise of Metro CDO.
Metro CDO Population Boom
With a total population of 1, 219, 005 as of 2015 and total land area of 2,221, 13 square kilometers, the COWD-COBI partnership will be hard pressed to keep up with the increasing demand for water in Metro CDO .
Population trends indicate Metro CDO will have a total population of 1,382,574 on 2.73 growth rate by 2020, to grow further to a populace of 1,559,475 on 1.28 growth rate by 2025.
At present, COWD provides water services to only 64 of Cagayan de Oro’s 80 barangays, 7 of Opol, Misamis Oriental’s 14 barangays, and Barangay, Casinglot in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental.
Dirty and intermittent water for the Pandemic
The problem with this ambitious plan is the actual scenario where rising demand has precluded COWD’s gradual phase-out of its deep wells. Even if COBI were already delivering at its full capacity of 100MLD, it would still have to undergo regular and unscheduled maintenance shutdowns, further aggravating an already tenuous supply situation.
Kagay-anons continue to receive intermittent and often dirty brown water from their taps due to the confluence of the rising demand and maintenance shutdowns in its main bulk water plant that prevents COWD from shutting down its deep wells permanently.
This will not do given the constantly rising number of COVID-19 cases in Cagayan de Oro and Northern Mindanao. The situation calls for an immediate and urgent solution for a safer and more reliable water supply to help curb the pandemic surge.