Desalination may be able to help solve Cebu’s long-standing water scarcity, but...

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Water, to me, is very important. I don’t drink soda or tea or coffee or sweetened drinks, only water. There’s an occasional sikwate or fruit shake, but water, I drink liters of it each day. Somehow, there has always been a steady supply of it for me, which makes me happy. 

Then I learned a new fear. A couple of weeks ago, where I live with my husband, there was no supply of water for several days. It was fortunate that we were able to store drinking water good for a week. 

We do not buy from water refilling stations. We have our own filters to make the chlorine-smelling and slimy water we get from the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) a bit cleaner and safer for drinking. And we have rainwater for toilet use. 

It was a scary time. Around the neighborhood, when I went out for walks, I heard neighbors asking each other about their supply of water. Others were busy calling up water delivery services as far as Lapu-Lapu City. 

MCWD, which was placed in the hot seat and doubly pressured by the provincial government, did not initiate an intensive information campaign about the issue, much to our distress and anxiety. 

Learn to cope

My family has always learned to cope. Even when we sometimes grumble from lack of sleep, we learn to accept that water comes only between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. We store a barrel of water good for two to three days. We do not use showers anymore and we don’t have a bathtub, only a pail for bathing. We recycle laundry water for toilet use and for cleaning the bathroom floor. We have rainwater to water the plants and wash the car. 

We know water is precious. Especially in Metro Cebu where the supply is alarming.

This is why I strive to write about water as often as I can and inform others about it. I already investigated the depth of the problem in three previous special reports. Middle of this month, I received an informative material from a friend, Ms. Caroline Ballesteros.

I was not surprised to learn that the water supply from MCWD, which serves the cities of Cebu, Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue, and Talisay, and the municipalities of Compostela, Consolacion, Cordova, and Liloan, is insufficient to meet the increasing demands of the consumers.

This gap is expected to increase as population grows and more businesses take root in the urban areas. This rapid growth is posing a serious threat to the ground water sources, which are already deteriorating, as well as to the limited surface water. 

What can be done? One of these, apart from individual water conservation methods (which still helps a lot, by the way), is desalination. I learned about this during public-private institutional meetings I attended as a spectator in recent years and found that desalination has the potential to provide consumers with safe water. 

Socialized charging scheme

Desalination is used to purify saline water and make it into potable freshwater. Countries like China and Japan desalinate their water. Around the world, industrial-scale desalinated water facilities are a critical part of the strategic water supply strategy in urban areas. 

From what I understand, desalinated water is costlier because of the power it consumes to proceed with the desalination process. But water districts like MCWD can adopt various means to mitigate the cost of desalinated water, such imposing a socialized charging scheme that charges higher to commercial and industrial users and maintains a lower rate for households.

It also poses questions on its effects on the environment. What would the desalination process be like? Will dirty water be flushed to the sea in the process? How will marine life be affected?

As a matter of perspective, for someone like me who drinks a lot of water, I would rather pay for readily available and contamination-free desalinated water than buy hundreds of possibly unsafe bottled water from refilling stations in a year or fight in line at the public pump when water supply does not reach our house at the break of dawn.

But this may not be the case for other people who are afraid of change, who are unsure of the health effects of desalinated water, who would likely resist paying more than what they are currently paying, who are willing to fall in line at the public pumps.

Desalination process

Proponents, should desalination be pushed for Cebu, must provide safe desalination procedures and engage in an intensive information campaign to educate and prepare consumers for the impact of large-scale desalination.  

For my part, I will not buy desalinated water if the process involved will do more harm than good to our already deteriorating environment. This means I have to do my own research about it, too, and not merely rely on public-private sector messages that will be funneled through the media.

Do you think desalinated water is possible in Cebu? How soon we can have one is, I think, a matter of how fast and organized and united the government and the private sector can act. For the meantime, we, as individuals, have to protect and conserve what water supply we have.


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