Perennially, Metro Manila and its adjacent cities have counted on water from the various dams around it. So whenever there is a drought, the danger level goes up. And whenever there is too much— the capital sinks and drowns.
To see this as simply a Manila problem would be a failure to look at the big picture. The United Nations according to the BBC that each person needs 50 liters of water a day for drinking, washing, cooking and sanitation. Further, the story reported that the United Nations in 2000 projected that US$100 billion would be need to tackle water scarcity world wide.
According to this Inquirer article, authorities and water distributors are considering Laguna Lake a source of water for Metro Manila.
Is anybody asking that that move is just a stopgap measure?
There are a number of technology solutions that could be used. First there is drip irrigation for irrigation. Second, treating of waste water so it could be drunk several times over is a way to conserve water.
Then there is Desalination, which isn’t new technology but has actually been around for years. It is the same technology used in US Aircraft carriers to provide water for the crew (because it could work in tandem with a nuclear reactor).
Singapore has constructed a desalination plant and it uses a total of 4.2kWhr/m3 of energy. They are selling US$0.49 per cubic meter of water for the first year. The contractor they used— Black & Veatch did the design, support during construction and operation totaled US$90 million.
The French have constructed a desalination plant. It produces 320,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day. It cost 1.5 billion Euro between Veolia and an Israeli counterpart to cover the finance, construction and operation of the plant in a build operate and transfer scheme for 25 years.
Trinidad and Tobago built a US$120 million dollar plant that would process 28.8 million gallons of water per day. The plant is selling water at the price of US$2.67 per 1,000 gallons. At 46 pesos per one USD, that’s 122.82 pesos per 1,000 gallons of water.
Is Desalination the answer?
That said, there is an ecological cost to desalination and other side effects such as heavy use of energy and it leaves brine. What ecological considerations? For example in Australia, the facility there produces only 140,000 cubic meters of water per day and sucks in 0.1 meters per second of water to allow fish to escape.
Is desalination the answer?
How much water does Metro Manila really need? And if a facility is constructed to meet that demand, would the cost be affordable for people? How much would the cost of water then becomes for Juan dela Cruz?
Perhaps what is needed is a holistic approach. How does this affect the public years down the line.
And sadly yes, if you want water, you got to pay for it. The problem of water not just in the Philippines but for the rest of the world has few solutions and a lot of cost. What else could be done but to start using technology to our advantage— whether it is treating water or desalination or some other solution.
It seems to me that simply tapping Laguna Lake and looking at it as the ultimate solution is a stopgap measure and might not be the best idea. Yet in spite of that, even if a desalination plant is the solution, it would take years and much money to build— in the order of billions of pesos in magnitude but the choice to solve the future has got to start real soon.