Filipino dam safety expert explains why dams pose higher risks than nuclear plants
Marje Pelayo • November 19, 2020 • 819
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.
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)
MANILA, Philippines — The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is currently discussing the creation of a committee that will focus on dam operations in the country.
“Ang usapan sa [What’s been discussed in the] NDRRMC during the last emergency meeting ay magkaroon ng isang kumite na permanente na tumingin talaga sa issue ng [is the creation of a committee that will permanently address the issues in] dam safety operations,” Science and Technology Undersecretary Renato Solidum confirmed in an interview with UNTV.
The creation of such a specific committee is what the NDRRMC sees as a solution to ensure the safe operation of dams across the country in consideration of the surrounding communities.
The NDRRMC is composed of agencies concerned with disasters and emergencies.
Following the deluge in Cagayan and Isabela provinces caused by Typhoon Ulysses, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año proposed the transfer of dam management to the NDRRMC, especially the control on when to release water during the onset of a typhoon.
Many see the release of water from Magat Dam as one reason that worsened the scenario in the said provinces during the typhoon.
Solidum said the proposed committee would not only oversee the releasing of water in dams but every aspect that would ensure dam safety in all forms of disaster such as earthquakes.
The official clarified, however, that the expertise of agencies currently managing the dams like the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) and dam operators will still be utilized even after dam management is transferred to the NDRRMC.
What needs further improvement, Solidum said, is risk communication especially the aspect of giving warning signals to communities on potential threats of the dams.
“When it comes to dam operation, ang makakatulong dito yung [what will help is the] further enhancement of communication down to everyone na magamit siguro yung mga [with the use of] available text blasts o ano pang magandang pamamaraan na ginagawa [or other available means that can be utilized],” he stressed recommending early evacuation of residents from areas most prone to disasters once the PAGASA announces the need to evacuate.
Meanwhile, the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) is now planning to conduct an assessment in rivers and other waterways to determine how time changed their physical features such as their size or capacity.
The NAPOCOR is also considering pushing through with the creation of a National Dam Safety Program (NDSP).
“Mayroon na kaming naging initial na coordination dyan sa NDSP at tuloy-tuloy naman iyon [We had an initial coordination on the NDSP and it’s been ongoing],” confirmed NAPOCOR Dam Management Department Manager Conrado Sison Jr.
“Ang aim is magkaroon tayo ng isang entity or bagay na mag-address nga itong problemang ito [The aim is to have an entity that will address all these problems],” he added. —MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)
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