Baguio folk used to recycling, saving water

By Vincent Cabreza
Northern Luzon Bureau
Last updated 08:47pm (Mla time) 07/30/2007

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — Folk here do not need lessons in water recycling every time drought dries up Metro Manila’s faucets because there’s always blow-by-blow instruction available to every household in the country’s summer capital.


For the last 50 years, Baguio residents have been building water tanks that sometimes tower over their own homes to capture and conserve rain water.


In their houses are cabinets of recycled jars or a veranda of drums filled with tap water.


Many buildings here that date back to the 1960s have showers or bathtubs, but none has been used for bathing.


Bathtubs are particularly valuable commodities here because they are useful water storage facilities.


Maryanne, a 40-year-old housewife, said migrants and transient students, upon settling in, are often bewildered by households that wake up each day to collect bath water and laundry water in sealed receptacles, to be used later to flush toilets, scrub floors or even water yards.


“It doesn’t matter how often we bathe or wash dishes, but we make sure we save in another receptacle the water we used for the last bath or rinse, so we can also water our house plants,” Maryanne said.


The city’s terrain helped shape this peculiar lifestyle, Teresita de Guzman, general manager of the Baguio Water District (BWD), said.


Baguio has the most rainfall in the country, but much of this water slides down the city’s sloping hills towards low-lying rivers that feed sections of Northern Luzon, she said.


She said Baguio’s water distribution cycle relies instead on rainwater absorbed and processed by the city’s natural aquifer.


The city maintained a 10-hectare water reservoir on top of Mt. Sto. Tomas, between Baguio and Tuba, Benguet.


American engineers, who built the city from the ground up in 1909 for the colonial government, were aware of the mountain community’s rain-drenched nature, according to local historians.


They set up an elaborate drainage system to feed the man-made lake at Burnham Park, knowing full well how strong the rains could get between July and October, they said.


Weather observer Efren Dalipog said the Baguio weather office measured 11 millimeters of rain that fell here on Sunday, July 29.


The BWD said the rains so far have filled up only five meters of the 50-meter high reservoir.


However, residents are not panicking yet.


Baguio water has always been rationed in the summers because it is often this water basin that supplies most of the city’s water then, according to De Guzman.


Perhaps, the best indication of how successful Baguio recycling has been is BWD’s sales figures.


De Guzman said a household here usually consumes 23 to 25 cubic meters of water each month, or 125 drums of water shared by six family members.


As long as the rations remain steady, no one will complain, according to De Guzman.


Officials blame the water shortage in Metro Manila on the denudation of the country’s watersheds.


“This is all about trees and watersheds,” said Senator Loren Legarda in a press statement.


“We’ve been warning repeatedly about this in the past. The unabated destruction of trees has clearly diminished in a big way our natural ground capacity to hoard enough water,” she said.


Legarda chaired the Senate committee on environment and natural resources and authored two major environment-protection laws in the 12th Congress — the Solid Waste Management Act and the Clean Air Act.


She founded Luntiang Pilipinas (Green Philippines), the nationwide tree-growing program that received the United Nations Environment Program Award in 2001.


Two weeks ago, Legarda renewed her bid to totally ban all logging to safeguard the country’s residual forests and allow new trees to grow unmolested in logged over districts nationwide.


Legarda reintroduced a measure — Senate Bill (SB) 73 — that seeks to prohibit logging operations of any kind for the next 25 years. The bill proposes to declare it illegal for any person to cut or destroy any tree standing on any forest, timberland, forest reserve or watershed.


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