Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Umali convenes water summit as Ecija braces for El Niño

CABANATUAN CITY, Nueva Ecija–The provincial government has set for tomorrow a water summit among various national government agencies and local government units 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.

          Gov. Aurelio Umali will preside over the summit 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 on local farmers.

          The summit, he said, will try to come out with projection on the extent of damage, 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 week, 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 at an alarming rate.

          Last week, 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.

          If its 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 60 percent of these areas, Umali said.

          To address the drop in the dam’s water level, 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.

          He said prior to the water summit, an inter-agency dialogue convened by the provincial government saw the need to rationalize irrigation use during the dry spell.

          Umali said the province, being the home of the Pantabangan Dam, should be prioritized in the utilization of irrigation water over other provinces such as Bulacan, Pampanga and Tarlac which also source their supply from the dam.     

          “Servicing other provinces over Nueva Ecija is just unacceptable,” he said.

          At the same time, Umali said 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 Penaranda River, the Tayabo Dam and other upstream water sources to augment supply. (Manny Galvez)


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