The Philippines government has been laying great emphasis on improvement in access to water and sanitation services across the country. Water supply services in the Philippines have improved dramatically over the past one decade. In 2009, access to basic drinking water services in the country was minimal; however, in 2017, 93.9 per cent of the population had basic access to safe drinking water. There have also been notable developments in the urban and rural coverage of safely managed services in the country.

The Philippine government has undertaken various projects to build essential infrastructure for water supply in the country. Southeast Asia Infrastructure takes a look at the development of a few key water supply projects in the sector…

Kaliwa Dam Project

The Kaliwa Dam Project or the new centennial water supply project is a new water source being constructed to meet the increasing demand of the people of Metro Manila, Rizal and Quezon by constructing another dam and reducing dependence on the Angat Dam. The project involves the design and construction of a 60 metre high dam with an initial capacity of 600 million litres per day (mld). It is expected to entail an investment of PhP 12.19 million. The Kaliwa Dam is one of the projects being implemented by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) under its Water Security Plan for 2018-2023. As of December 2020, the consensus building process for Rizal and Quezon has been completed. Of the 13 plots of land to be acquired, three have been purchased, eight are awaiting the results of the expropriation process and two have writ of possession. The project was earlier expected to be completed by 2023; however, due to delays in permits, the timeline has been revised and the project is now targeted to be completed by June 2025.

Angat Water Transmission Improvement Project

The Angat Water Transmission Improvement Project (AWTIP) was launched in 2018 to improve the reliability and security of raw water through partial rehabilitation of the transmission system from Ipo to La Mesa and the introduction of water safety, risk and asset management plans. The project involves the construction of a new 4 metre tunnel (tunnel no. 4) including intake and outlet works. It is part of  MWSS’s effort to rehabilitate the Umiray-Angat-Ipo dam system, which supplies about 90 per cent of Metro Manila’s water. The new aqueduct, with a 3.6 metre diameter, will have a welded steel concrete-coated pipe. The aqueduct will increase the system’s water transfer capacity to 66 cubic metres per second (m3/sec) by 2025, up from 50 m3/sec in 2019. It will allow MWSS to retire its two oldest aqueducts and repair others by 2032.

In addition, the project will enhance MWSS’s capacity to operate and maintain the system’s water tunnels and aqueducts and raise public awareness of water conservation. The project is part of the government’s Build, Build, Build infrastructure development programme. Once construction starts, it is expected that the project will provide a stimulus to domestic material suppliers and boost demand for construction jobs. In June 2020, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $126 million loan to MWSS to support the construction of the project and help secure water supply to nearly 13 million residents in Metro Manila. The additional financing for the AWTIP is expected to strengthen the water system’s downstream transmission capacity.

Bulacan Bulk Water Supply Project

The Bulacan Bulk Water Supply Project was developed to supply treated bulk water to the entire province of Bulacan through its water districts in accordance with the memorandum of agreement signed in July 2012 between  MWSS and the Bulacan province. The project is being developed in three stages. While Stage 1 covers six water districts, San Jose del Monte, Marilao, Meycauayan, Bocaue, Obando and Balagtas, Stage 2 covers the seven water districts of Guiguinto, Calumpit, Bulakan, Plaridel, Sta. Maria, Paombong and Malolos. As of April 2019, the first two stages of the project have started commercial operations and stand completed. The construction of Stage 3, which covers the remaining 11 municipalities of Baliuag, Plaridel, Pandi, Hagonoy, San Rafael, San Miguel, Norzagaray, Angat, Dona Remedios Trinidad, San Ildefonso and Bustos, is expected to start in 2022. It is expected to entail an investment of PhP 2.45 billion.

Davao City Bulk Water Supply Project

The Davao City Bulk Water Supply Project (DCBWSP) is a project of the Davao City Water District (DCWD) in partnership with Apo Agua Infrastructura, Inc. It will tap the Tamugan river as a surface water source and utilise a 100 per cent renewable energy-run water treatment facility for safe and sustainable bulk water supply for Davao city, ensuring a more resilient and self-sufficient system. The project includes 35 main pipe projects of which 27 are crucial. As of October 2020, 26 (of the 27 crucial pipe projects) stand completed while the remaining one is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. Of the remaining eight other projects that will connect to comprise the distribution system, six are in the pipeline while the two others are contingency projects.

Upper Wawa Dam Project

The Upper Wawa Dam project in the Philippines is being developed to serve as a new water source for Metro Manila. The region is currently fed by the Angat, Ipo and La Mesa dams. Drought conditions across the region, combined with a growing population, have led to difficulties in meeting water needs. As a result, residents have experienced supply issues ranging from low pressure to no water at all. It is planned that the system will be able to start supplying water to Metro Manila by December 31, 2021, with an initial capacity of 80 mld. By December 31, 2021, the dam is expected to be capable of providing a reliable water supply of 518 mld, which would be sufficient to cater to around 3 million people. As of May 2020, the project is being developed by Wawa JVCo; Arup will provide technical support during the bidding period after which the company will oversee the implementation of the two main contracts. It will carry out design review services, site supervision and contract management works.

Impact of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic had severely affected construction activity in the Philippines by bringing down the number and value of construction projects in the first quarter of 2020 by over one-fifth as of end March due to lockdown restrictions in most parts of the country. The limited mobility of construction workers and raw materials has brought down the pace of project implementation.

The government’s plans to implement the Infrastructure Flagship Projects on a public-private partnership basis are expected to face issues in attracting private investment, due to dampened economic performance amidst the pandemic. A severe financial crunch has also affected the implementation of projects by private agencies.

In sum

Many steps have been taken to improve operations and reduce non-revenue water (NRW) in the Philippines. In Metro Manila,  water concessionaires Manila Water, which provides water and used water services in the east zone, and Maynilad Water Services, which provides water in the west zone, have reduced their NRW rates to 11 per cent and 29 per cent respectively. The reductions have been possible due to the adoption of the latest technologies by the concessionaires in their water and wastewater management systems. Going forward, it is essential to improve the quality of, and access to, water supply services by building the technical and managerial capacities of service providers to ensure holistic development in the country.