Cagayan River rehabilitation efforts begin February 2

Marje Pelayo   •   January 29, 2021   •   329

MANILA, Philippines — Rehabilitation efforts in Cagayan River are set to begin on Tuesday (February 2).

The project will include the dredging of sandbars and widening of the river.

The non-structure intervention is estimated to cost around P2.3 billion which will run from this year until 2025.

Relocation of affected residents near the river, such as those in Tuguegarao City, is also part of the rehabilitation.

“We have to relocate them. We are communicating with the National Housing Authority but we are setting aside parts of our budget for the relocation of those who will be affected and those who are perennially affected by the flooding,” explained Mayor Jefferson Soriano of Tuguegarao City.

Massive tree-planting activity is also another part of the long-term mitigation program to prevent future floods.

Meanwhile, the Committee on Agriculture and Food on Friday (January 29) resumed the inquiry on the massive flooding that affected areas near the Cagayan and Marikina rivers during the onslaught of tropical cyclone Ulysses last year.

The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) presented their plan for the revision of Magat Dam protocol especially on releasing water.

NIA Administrator General Ricardo Visaya (Ret.) said that from the current six hours, activation of warning stations shall be done 24 hours before the pre-release of water.

This will be accompanied by the information given to the public through text messaging.

Releasing of water before the landfall of a tropical cyclone will also be carried out one day ahead to avoid massive floods in the community.

Information on the water outflow from the dam will be written in layman’s terms so that it can easily be understood and allow the community to prepare ahead of time.

Also, local government units will be required to acknowledge receipt of the warning given by the authorities.

“May mga reklamo noon na hindi daw sila na inform although the Magat River Integrated Irrigation System did their best in informing them. We would like now that when they receive our warnings or any advice, we would like this to be acknowledged by them,” Visaya said.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRMMC) is also planning to create a dam safety protocol and a Committee on Dams that will monitor all dams across the country.

It is also recommending a bill that will institutionalize the Dam Safety Program of the country. 

“If we now have a good enabling environment for dams, we will now be able to attract more investment,” noted Office of the Civil Defense Director Tecson John Lim.

For this initiative, the government is seeking expert advice from Engineer Roderick dela Cruz, a Filipino dam safety expert, who is based in the US where he manages around 80 dams in Southern California. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

Cagayan River dredging to begin on Feb. 2

Aileen Cerrudo   •   January 22, 2021

CAGAYAN, Philippines — The dredging of the Cagayan River is set to begin on February 2, according to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The government aims to remove the sandbars along the narrow area of the river to prevent severe flooding in the Cagayan Valley.

The DPWH said the three sandbars cover around 235 hectares and a volume of seven million cubic meters. They are located in Magapit Narrows which the DPWH noted as a constriction point in the center of the Cagayan River.

The sandbars are specifically located in Barangay Bangag in Lal-lo and in Barangay Casicallan Norte and Dummun in Gattaran.

The DPWH will coordinate with other agencies to speed up the process of dredging the river. AAC (with reports from Grace Doctolero)

Probe starts on possible cause of Cagayan-Isabela flood

Marje Pelayo   •   November 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) maintained that prior to the entry of Typhoon Ulysses in the country on November 8, they were constantly reminding the public of its possible impact and the volume of rains that it might bring, similar to the previous weather disturbances that entered the country.

According to PAGASA Administrator Vicente Malano, they also forewarned the public that since the previous typhoons had already saturated the ground, expect the possibility of massive flash floods on the onset of Typhoon Ulysses.

“Ang sabi ko during the press conference, mag-ingat tayo dito dahil saturated na ang kalupaan at pagdating ni Ulysses…si Ulysses ay nasa 400 ang radius ng kanyang influence so kaya widespread talaga ang ulan na dinala niya [What I said during the press conference was to be vigilant and prepare because the ground was already saturated even before Ulysses. Ulysses’ influence was 400-kilometer radius so rainfall was really widespread],” Malano explained during the joint committee hearing on Tuesday (November 24) led by the House Committee on Agriculture and Food and Special Committee on North Luzon Growth Quadrangle.

The probe aims to determine the real cause of the worst flood in 40 years that submerged almost the entire Cagayan and Isabela provinces on November 11 in the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses.

Many blamed the flood on water released from Magat Dam but according to the dam’s operator the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), all protocols regarding the release of water had been followed though the agency did not deny that it could have contributed to the deluge.

“Talagang matagal na iyong protocol. Ngayon lang natin nakita na it could have contributed to the flooding. Hindi naman namin na dinedeny dahil may tubig naman talagang lumabas [The protocol has been there a long time ago. It is only now that we realized it could have contributed to the flooding. We don’t deny that we released water (from the dam)],” said Ret/Gen. Ricardo Visaya, NIA Administrator.

“But hindi iyon talaga ang major reason or major caused ng flooding [But it was not the major reason or cause of the flooding],” he insisted saying they advised the communities six hours prior to the scheduled release of water on November 9 to give them time to prepare and, if possible, evacuate the area also in anticipation of the strong typhoon based on the information provided by PAGASA.

NIA explained that it is not only Magat River (where Magat Dam is located) but there are 20 other tributaries or rivers that bring water to the catch basin which is Cagayan River. 

In fact, Magat River brings only about 15% of water to Cagayan River.

Given this information, Bagong Henerasyon Partylist Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy asked the officials which among the government agencies are responsible now for projecting the potential impact or extent of hazards like the flash flood that happened in Cagayan and Isabela.

“Who analyzes the effect in the provinces where the dam is located or where flooding has occurred?” asked the lawmaker.

Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad of the Office of the Civil Defense said all member agencies of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) are well-represented every time they have meetings and that includes the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the one responsible for flood control in the country.

For its part, the DPWH said there was actually an existing masterplan for the Cagayan River flood control project that was established way back 2002 though it was not pushed through due to problems in funding.

“In this Cagayan, we have the master plan in 2002 and feasibility study however because of the magnitude cost during that time it was not pushed through for financing,” explained DPWH’s Project Director for Flood Control Management Cluster Ramon Ariola.

The DPWH is now planning to conduct dredging efforts in the Cagayan River as well as constructing six more dams on the upper area of the waterway.

The NDRRMC, meanwhile, is now in discussion over the creation of a committee that will focus on the management and safety of dams in the country.

In the next hearing, the joint committee seeks to hear from the River Basin Control Office, a sub-agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to speak its side on the issue. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)


Filipino dam safety expert explains why dams pose higher risks than nuclear plants

Marje Pelayo   •   November 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Dam Safety Expert Roderick dela Cruz suggests that the Philippines must formulate a program that will focus on the aspect of dam safety in consideration of the communities near the downstream.

With 30 years of experience, dela Cruz who is based in the United States currently works as Senior Engineering Manager at SoCal Edison, one of the largest energy companies in the US and manages over 80 dams across Southern California.

In an interview via Zoom, dela Cruz recalled that, following the onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy that devastated his hometown Hagonoy, Bulacan ten years ago, he proposed to the government to establish a national dam safety program that would regulate and facilitate the dams in the country.

“When I was writing this paper, what I noticed really was one, a lack of program in the Philippines. We do not have a standard on how we monitor, how we design and how we improve the performance of an existing dam,” he said of his article published in 2012 in The Journal of Dam Safety.

He explained that dam management is crucial and needs a high level of expertise as he compares the extent of damage a broken dam could cause which is more massive that of a nuclear plant.

I compared the risk noong dam kumpara sa risk nung Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. Sa aking pananaw mas malaki ang risk ng dam kesa sa nuclear plant [I compared the risk pose by a dam to that of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. I believe a dam poses higher risk than a nuclear (power) plant],” he said noting that the extent of the devastation of a broken dam could reach a larger number of communities than that of the nuclear plant.

“Ang question nga is bakit pinayagang hindi operate yung [My question is: Why not allow the operation of a] nuclear plant because of our concern and yet you continue to operate a lot of these major dams na hindi natin naiintindihan talaga kung ano ang magiging consequences kung saka-sakaling bumigay ang dam [without understanding the consequences when they break]?” he added.

He stressed that in the US, dams can be classified as high hazard structures when they pose a great danger to the community. Thus, a specific agency or a private firm is being tapped to manage them.

Such is the case with his company in Southern California which, despite being a private firm, operates under the regulation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

He also stressed that strict requirements and regulations for the safety and continuous operations of the dams are given utmost importance in the US.

Dela Cruz reiterated that having a dam safety program, the risk of dam breakage and destructive release of water will be prevented. It will also help protect dam structures from breaking in the event of an earthquake.

The dam safety expert also underscored that regular assessment and maintenance of dams must be conducted to prevent damage especially in consideration of the years that the dams have been operating.

“Ang isa ko ngang concern, maaari kasing ang protocol na na-establish long time ago, maaaring hindi na ngayon applicable dahil ang downstream impact mo ay nabago na [Also one of my concerns would be the protocols that have been established a long time ago may no longer be applicable due to the changes in downstream impact],” he explained.

“So those are areas that need to be evaluated para matingnan natin kung dapat ba natin baguhin ang [to determine if there is a need to change the] protocol, for what reason or for what purpose. So there needs to be a holistic approach ng [of the] assessment and evaluation of our dam based on risk,” he added.

In the Philippines, the La Mesa dam in Quezon City is the oldest (1929) followed by Ipo Dam in Bulacan (1938); Caliraya Dam in Laguna (1942); Ambuclao Dam in Benguet province (1956); Binga Dam in Itogon, Benguet (1960); Angat Dam in Bulacan (1967); Pantabangan Dam in Nueva Ecija (1974); Magat Dam in Cagayan Valley (1982); and San Roque Dam in Pangasinan (2008).

For its part, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) has assured that it is conducting regular maintenance and structural assessment in all of the dams in the country.

In 2011, then Bulacan 1st district Rep. Victoria Alvarado filed a bill that sought to institute a National Dam Safety Program and establish a National Dam Safety Authority.

After almost 10 years, the bill remains stalled and pending at the committee level in Congress. MNP (With reports from Rey Pelayo)

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