Background (Water)

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Sector Background and Potential

The dependable supply and distribution of water for urban living as well as agriculture is critical to economic growth and the everyday life of Filipinos. Fortunately, the Philippines has not been threatened by severe drought. However, the country is challenged to store and deliver sufficient water to its fast-growing population and to dispose of wastewater without damage to the environment or public health. Urban water supply has been privatized in Metro Manila and few other cities.

Prospective investors in the water supply sector have noted the lack of an economic regulator and the inadequate capacity and resources of the current resource regulator. This discourages foreign investors from entering the field. The absence of an independent regulator forced the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), Manila Water Company, and Maynilad Water Services to establish one by contract. While the arrangement is novel and apparently works, establishing an independent regulator via legislation will afford greater comfort and long-term stability.

Currently, the water resource developer (MWSS) is also the regulator. The regulatory office is under the supervision and management of the MWSS Board of Trustees. There is a need for a separate and independent Water Regulatory Commission.

More than a decade ago, the Senate Technical Committee on Energy introduced three bills to reform the power and water sectors in the Philippines: the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), the Water Reform Act, and the Electric Cooperative Reform Act. Of the three bills, only EPIRA has been passed. There is an immediate need to revisit the proposal for a Water Reform Act, an EPIRA for water. Currently there is no institutional and legal framework to guide private and public cooperation in developing water sources throughout the country.

Most of the country is dependent on separate local water districts each with its own plans, regulations, and policies. A private investor has to deal with individual local water districts to develop water supply projects to serve local communities. The present legal framework has some 30 governmental agencies (e.g. DENR, DILG, DOH, DPWH) with varying scopes and limited jurisdictions, in the water sector and also must be rationalized. The fragmented nature of regulation and policies diffuses focus and confuses and dissuades new entrants.

The water supply situation in Metro Manila and 8 other urban centers (Metro Cebu, Davao, Baguio, Angeles, Bacolod, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, and Zamboanga) has been described in various studies as critical. Immediate solutions to cope with the anticipated water deficit should be identified and implemented.

In Metro Manila, the two concessionaires source water at a subsidized rate enabling them to distribute it to consumers at a very low price. How much are consumers willing to pay to have a reliable and sufficient water supply? Wholesale water rates must be sufficient to pay for the development of new water sources to meet existing and future demand, which means at least PhP 18 per cubic meter, probably more.

Angat Dam currently supplies 97 percent of Metro Manila’s water supply. In addition, the dam is used to supply irrigation water, together placing a serious strain on its capacity. Power is generated using the separate discharges for water supply to Metro Manila and to the 30,000-hectare Angat-Maasim Rivers Irrigation System and is not a factor in the consumption of water. In 2010 there is a shortage of 500 million liters per day (MLD) in Metro Manila, which is expected to increase to 2,000 MLD by 2015. The consensus is that (1) Angat is not capable of supplying the water supply needs of Metro Manila and (2) a new source for bulk water supply is essential. Another concern is the security of supply, as Metro Manila relies solely on a single source of bulk water vulnerable to damage from earthquakes.

MWSS continues to develop plans to increase the water supply to Metro Manila, albeit slowly due to political interventions. Four major projects have been identified:

(1) Wawa with a capacity of 50 MLD,

(2) Laguna de Bay with a capacity of 300 MLD,

(3) Sierra Madre with a capacity of 500 MLD, and

(4) Laiban with an initial capacity of 1,900 MLD, plus the option of an additional 3,400 MLD via a future transbasin diversion from the Kanan River.

The major obstacle for all four projects is financing, which depends on the creditworthiness of the buyer, MWSS, which in turn requires credit enhancement in the form of a GRP performance undertaking. The government of the Philippines has considered the Laiban proposal several times over the past 30 years and already spent substantial funds for physical data collection, engineering and environmental studies, and socio-economic surveys of the affected communities and indigenous peoples.

A financially viable solution for proponents, equity sources, lenders, and government must be found. The government’s aversion to “take-or-pay” arrangements, sovereign guarantees, and performance undertakings, while understandable, must be reconsidered in light of what realistically is essential to finance new water sources and also makes economic sense. The question is not so much if the country can afford such projects, but rather whether it can live without them. The longer their development is delayed, the more costly the solution is likely to be, not only in terms of price but also in terms of socio-economic impact.

MWSS recently elected to consider public-private joint ventures under guidelines developed by NEDA, the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB), and the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC). Recent administrations have not been willing to fund water supply projects. The private sector – in this case San Miguel Bulk Water Company – provided this proposal (or another) is implemented must finance the entire project, estimated to cost US$ 1.1 to 1.4 billion. The project as initially conceived 30 years ago has been studied thoroughly.

When Laiban was initially proposed in the early 1980s, there were only about 1,200 families living in the reservoir area upstream of the proposed dam and its immediate vicinity. Today, there are 4,500 families living in this area. After San Miguel Bulk Water Corporation submitted its unsolicited proposal these families formed a cooperative that passed a resolution demanding each be paid PhP 3 million to relocate. The relocation cost alone is estimated to be at around PhP 400 million, which MWSS insists be borne by the private sector. In a JV scheme, unsolicited proposals are subject to a competitive challenge by other proponents.

The ideal option is to bid out such major infrastructure projects, but to do so the government (MWSS) must collect extensive physical and environmental data and conduct technical studies that are costly and require several years to complete. The GRP lacks the resources and in-house expertise, moreover, to manage such a program. But without competitive bidding, how can the proposed cost be justified to consumers and taxpayers as reasonable and necessary? Under the JV approach, it is the implementing agency (MWSS) that decides. That agency should base its decision solely on the national interest, which in this case means a company that can most efficiently develop quality infrastructure that will result in an affordable, reliable supply of water for the long term. The success of this arrangement depends on good governance.

MWSS also has allowed the two concessionaires to develop minor new water sources. Both Maynilad and Manila Water currently are developing 100 MLD from various sources, such as treating water obtained from Laguna de Bay.

The Philippines has been myopic in its water policy over the last decade, focusing only on Metro Manila. MWSS only covers Metro Manila and portions of Bulacan, Cavite, and Rizal. What about the water supply to cities and communities not served by its two concessionaires? Even a major project like Laiban is not sufficient to service the requirements of other Luzon cities and towns. There is an urgent need for a national policy.

To address the water supply needs of local government units, particularly cities and towns, a water supply company must deal with countless local officials and organizations. Working with so many small administrative units is inefficient compared to dealing with a central agency.

The two Metro Manila concessionaires have prioritized their resources into upgrading the water distribution network. Their capital improvements have focused on improving the antiquated piping system. There is a great need to invest in wastewater treatment to reduce the problem of discharging sanitary wastes into flowing streams and other bodies of water, such as fresh water lakes and Manila Bay, polluting the environment. Targets on sewage and sanitation are laid out in the concession agreement drafted by the IFC.

Despite being the biggest consumer of water, the agriculture sector does not pay irrigation fees. Similar to other countries, almost 80% of the water supply is used in the agriculture sector, while the other 20% is spread among other sectors. Public sector irrigation systems (e.g. Angat-Maasim River Irrigation System, Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation System, and Agno River Irrigation System) are poorly maintained and inadequate for the food requirements of a fast-growing population.

Heavy monsoon rains and severe typhoons have long caused flooding in Metro Manila and other low-lying areas of the archipelago. The rising ocean caused by climate change will increase the threat of flooding in coastal and river mouth areas where Filipinos have traditionally developed their towns and cities. Furthermore, urbanization has been accompanied by disruption of natural drainage systems through improper location of roads and buildings and poor disposal of solid waste. This has caused the lowering of the water-holding capacities of cities, resulting in more rainwater flooding low-lying areas accompanied by slower runoffs and increased flood damage.