Tuesday, September 2, 2014

El Niño to cut down Pantabangan Dam’s water supply to CL farms to 40% -- Umali

JAEN, Nueva Ecija – The dreaded El Niño phenomenon is seen to cut the supply of irrigation from the Pantabangan Dam to Central Luzon farmlands down to only 40%.

          Nueva Ecija Gov. Aurelio Umali told farmers during a gathering in this town that only 44,000 hectares out of the more than 100,000 hectares agricultural lands in the province, Pampanga and Bulacan would be able to receive irrigation water due to El Niño whose effects are likely to be felt in the last quarter of the year.

          He said this projection was arrived at following his dialogue with officials of the Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation Systems, the operator of the Pantabangan Dam. “This is a big blow to farmers so we have to prepare them for this worse-case scenario,” he said.

Umali said the provincial government is pushing through with its water summit next week to prepare Nueva Ecija against the adverse effects of the dreaded El Niño phenomenon on food production and water supply in the country’s rice granary.

He said if not addressed, this will impact on food security targets on a nationwide scale.

          The summit, originally scheduled last July 30, was deferred as the provincial government convened various agencies towards formulating an action plan against El Niño.

          Umali said he has utilized his intelligence funds for the de-silting of the Peñaranda River to ensure smooth delivery of irrigation water while the province braces for El Niño.

In late July, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration advised Filipinos to prepare for below normal rainfall in the last quarter of the year, as scientists are predicting the development of a “weak to moderate” El Niño during the period.

          Pagasa administrator Vicente Malano said below normal rainfall is likely in most areas of Luzon and the Visayas while near normal rainfall conditions are expected over Cagayan, Camarines Norte, Albay, Eastern and Central Visayas and most areas of Mindanao in the months of October, November and December.

          The last time El Niño hit the country was in 2009 and experts said the phenomenon happens every four to five years.

Umali said the province will have to be prepared for El Niño particularly since water elevation in the Pantabangan Dam continues to drop.

          In the last week of July, water level at the dam was at 179.04 meters above sea level (masl) and according to the National Irrigation Administration, it would take only 22 days of zero rainfall for the water level to shrink to its critical level of 171 masl, which happened nearly two decades ago.

          The water level rose above 180 masl only because the provincial government initiated cloud-seeding operations in partnership with First Gen. Corp. and other private entities. 

          Yesterday, water level at the dam was at 186.2 masl, according to UPRIIS operations manager Reynaldo Puno.

The water summit will try to identify the areas in the province which will potentially be hit hard by the prolonged dry spell and mitigate its impact on local farmers. It will also come out with projection on the extent of damage.

Umali said farmers will be included in the consultations because they are the ones who will bear the brunt of El Niño.

The provincial government is also looking at tapping other alternative sources of irrigation water to lessen the province’s dependence on the Pantabangan Dam.

          With the dam not fully operational, the utilization of the Peñaranda River, the Tayabo Dam and other upstream water sources to augment supply is also being explored. (Manny Galvez)

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