Local gov’t hikes efforts to revive heavily polluted Laguna Bay

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By Anna Valmero

PASIG CITY, METRO MANILA—Decades of improper waste disposal and lack of efficient sewerage treatment facilities heavily polluted Laguna Bay.

Most people would think that it is no longer possible to revive the lake for it to have pristine waters like before. Rodrigo Cabrera, Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) general manager, thinks otherwise.

The World Bank and the Netherlands government recently issued a $10 million grant to the LLDA. The fund will help joint efforts to clean-up Laguna Bay by local government units or LGUs.

The grant will finance additional environmental subprojects such as solid waste management facilities, eco-tourism development, wastewater treatment, and local drainage and flood control.

There are 24 river systems draining into Laguna Bay, and pollution in the lake caused by man-made activities such as lack of effective sewerage system have degraded the watershed and its water quality.

In addition, siltation and improper garbage disposal by people along the bay have clogged canals and waterways that caused floods to nearby towns during typhoon Ondoy in 2009.

Official estimate placed the total population of the Laguna Bay region at 13.6 million, which encompasses the whole provinces of Rizal and Laguna, some towns in Batangas, Cavite and some parts of Metro Manila.

Cabrera said the grant will enable LLDA and LGUs to increase the coverage of the Laguna de Bay Institutional Strengthening and Community Participation (LISCOP) Project, designed to improve the environmental quality of the Laguna Bay and its watershed.

Under LISCOP, 23 of the 41 LGU-operated open dumps were converrted into well-managed solid waste management facilities through the establishment of material recovery facilities (MRF), composting facilities and sanitary landfill, Cabrera said.

An assessment of 11 MRFs with composting showed that these facilities have diverted about 500 metric tons of solid waste out of Laguna Bay annually. Some LGUs have also installed wastewater treatment systems for their slaughterhouses that have been directly discharging untreated wastewater into the lake.

Through LISCOP, over 2,303 industrial firms from the target 1,400 industrial firms have applied for environmental user-fee system (EUFS), a market-based policy instrument designed to encourage companies to invest in water treatment facilities, practice waste minimization as well as reusing, recycling and greener production techniques. EUFS was introduced by LLDA in 1997.

The expansion of applications for EUFS resulted in reduced average industrial biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) loading, from 24.34 to 1.29 metric tons per firm for those covered by the EUFS.

BOD refers to a standard method for determining the amount of organic pollution in water bodies.Industries’ contribution to total BOD loading in the lake was reduced to only 11 percent from 40 percent prior to implementation of EUFS, said Cabrera.

World Bank country director Bert Hofman noted the success of EUFS implementation in Laguna Lake can be replicated in other parts of the country.

“The EUFS has led the industry to invest in pollution abatement systems resulting in the drastic reduction of industrial pollution loading in the lake, while the revenues collected from EUFS allowed LLDA to invest more in environmental subprojects,” said Hofman.

“Laguna de Bay supplies water for irrigation, power generation, industrial cooling, recreation, domestic use, environmental services and, most importantly, as the future source of water supply for Metro Manila. It is important to manage this valuable natural resource,” said Cabrera.

Photos courtesy of Thea Ysobel Manloloyo.

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