Recycling our water resource

By: Edgar Mana-ay

WITH the arrival of the rainy season, everyone including, our brethren in Metro Manila, especially the politicians, forget about water shortage. It’s just like temporarily tucking a serious problem under the pillow and then tackle it again comes summertime!

Water shortage is now a worldwide phenomenon. In fact, thousands of cities all over the world, including almost all the premier cities in our country (Metro Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, Baguio, Bacolod) to name a few, are now at a very dangerous “high water stress level”, which means that a serious water crisis is now the new normal!

To appreciate the technical term “high water stress level” is to start with the officers and employees of Metro Iloilo Water District (MIWD) by asking them this question: “Can you take a shower in your 2nd floor, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (24/7), without the use of a booster pump?” That will be the gauge whether water supply for Metro Iloilo from MIWD is sufficient or not, and of course their reply will be a resounding NO!

In the case of Metro Iloilo, the utility doesn’t know how to source its water supply effectively, coupled with abnormal losses at above 40% (euphemistically called non-revenue water or NRW) as MIWD transmits it to customers. This is further aggravated by the rising population and the urbanization of forests and rice fields. In the face of this mounting water scarcity, the most pressing and relevant challenge to the government now is to spearhead the RE-CYCLING OF OUR WASTE OR SEWAGE WATER.

Re-cycling of waste and sewage water WILL HAVE TO START WITH ALL RESIDENCES AND BUILDING ESTABLISHMENTS HAVING AN INDIVIDUAL WASTEWATER TREATMENT.  Of course, 90 percent of homes and buildings have the basic septic vault or POSO NEGRO, as it is required by the building code.

But this is not ENOUGH for large establishments such as hospitals and malls since they need a more modern way to break down sewage water before discharging it into the utility (MIWD) sewage line.


The Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) is required by law for large establishment because of the volume and nature of its wastewater (human waste, oils, food waste, chemicals) that an ordinary poso negro or septic vault cannot break down. It has to use a modern method such as the Sewage Biological Reduction (SBR) system where sewage waste is broken down (eaten in layman’s lingo) by bacteria to reduce it into a clean effluent (sabaw in Hiligaynon) and soil-like solid residue that can be used as fertilizer.

The effluent (the clean portion of the sewage) can now be discharged to our rivers or gathered by the utility through its wastewater line then processed further into tap water or drinking water or simply stored in manmade ponds or lakes where it can settle, then infiltrate to recharge the groundwater resource.

It is sad to note that the biggest government edifices in the city, City Hall and Provincial Capitol, don’t have modern sewage treatment plants and that after its poso negro, it discharges raw and dirty water direct to the Iloilo river nearby, thus becoming the number one polluter of the Iloilo River. This is the reason for the very high coliform level in our rivers, making it unsafe for swimming.

We take a look at San Diego California (population: 1.4 million) with an average rainfall of 25 mm per month and none at all between April and October! Since the Philippine is located in the tropics, we average 300 mm/month during the rainy season and 50 mm/month during summer.

This writer had a short stay in San Diego and knows fully well that its residents do NOT suffer as much water woes as we have despite the abundance of rain that we receive. But despite this, San Diego City government considered itself in a state of high water stress levels, hence its aggressive program on wastewater recycling now at 113,000 cubic meters daily (cmd) for irrigation, manufacturing and other non-potable water use at only a third of the cost of potable water.

By 2035 San Diego aims that a third of its potable water comes from recycled water.

Despite the scarcity of water supply, half of which is imported from the Colorado River and the Northern California Delta, an average San Diego resident still consumes 246 liters/day. In comparison, the U.S. average nationwide is 333 liters per person per day, while at Veterans Village, Iloilo City is 50 liters/person/day and here at home, we consume about 250 liters/person/day because of the numerous plants we have to water daily.

This writer is not guilty of being a gluttonous water user because I am recycling 100% of my sewage and waste water. I have installed a series of canals and sink holes at my backyard where all of my waste water, including from my septic vault, is returned underground to recharge the underground water resource. Then I have two 25-foot wells far from my sink holes where I get the water back for all household use, except drinking.

Re-cycling operations require the water utility to have THREE water lines – for potable, sewage and re-cycled water – hence a very complex and expensive system. Here in Iloilo we are light years away from that. MIWD cannot even repair their leaking water lines, how much more to install a new waste water line even within the city proper alone to gather waste water towards a reclamation plant.

Cenro and DENR are not also strict in implementing the sewage treatment plant (STP) for all City establishments. Since MIWD cannot do it, we challenge our City officials to award water concession to other companies such as Prime Water and Balibago Water if they can put up a system for re-cycling sewage water.

For according to John F. Kennedy (1917-1963): “We need men who can dream of things that never were.”