Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Long-delayed anti-El Niño water summit set in Ecija today

PALAYAN CITY, Nueva Ecija – After a three-month postponement, the  provincial government-sponsored water summit among various national government agencies and local government units (LGUs) will finally be convened today to prepare Nueva Ecija – the country’s rice granary - against the adverse effects of the dreaded El Niño phenomenon on food production and water supply.

          Gov. Aurelio Umali will preside over the summit at the Nueva Ecija Convention Center which will gather such agencies as the Department of Agriculture, the National Irrigation Administration, water districts, LGUs, farmers’ representatives and irrigators’ associations towards formulating an action plan against El Niño.

          Umali, who conceptualized the summit said the event will try to identify the areas in the province which will potentially be hit hard by the prolonged dry spell and mitigate its impact to local farmers.

          The summit was originally scheduled last July but this was postponed following the relief of Josephine Salazar as operations manager of the Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation Systems, the operator of the Pantabangan Dam. Salazar swapped post with erstwhile NIA Region 3 director Reynaldo Puno.         

Puno said the summit will come out with projection on the extent of damage that may be caused by El Niño, adding they expect a significant decline in palay and rice production which, if not addressed, will impact on food security targets on a nationwide scale.

          “We will include the farmers in our consultations because they are the ones who will bear the brunt of El Niño,” he said, adding that they will also look into improving the operations of irrigation canals to reduce water loss from the source to distribution areas.   

          Last 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 fluctuate.

          Yesterday, water level at the dam was at 200.83 meters above sea level (masl).

          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.

          If the dam’s water level continues to ebb, the dam, which services over 100,000 hectares of farmlands in Nueva Ecija and parts of Bulacan, Pampanga and Tarlac, will be able to irrigate only 40 percent of these areas, Umali said.

          The provincial government released P1 million to bankroll the initial stage of cloud-seeding operations, which is apart from financial support pledged by First Gen. Corp. and other private entities.

          The summit will pave the way for the creation of an inter-agency group that will look for other alternative sources of irrigation water to lessen the province’s dependence on the Pantabangan Dam.

          With the dam not fully operational, they will utilize the Peñaranda River, the Tayabo Dam and other upstream water sources to augment supply. (Manny Galvez)

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