(A Reprint from the Philippine Daily Inquirer – August 15, 2012) SAN MANUEL, Pangasinan, Philippines – In a concerted effort to prevent a repeat of massive flooding in the province, Pangasinan officials have agreed to come up with a “firm, official and permanent protocol” on water release from the San Roque Dam here.
The protocol would embody actions to be undertaken during typhoons or heavy rains to be approved by the secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Office of the President.
The provincial board held an out-of-town session Monday at the office of the San Roque Power Corp. (SRPC) here amid a renewed call by Gov. Amado Espino Jr. for the adoption of an existing protocol.
Former Pangasinan fifth district congressman Mark Cojuangco suggested that the unofficial document left unsigned during the 14th Congress for the protocol on water release be finally adopted “in order to have a legal order that would officially serve as permanent protocol which would not be changed from time to time.”
Cojuangco chaired the House ad hoc committee on dam management and safety during the 14th Congress. The protocol was proposed in response to the devastation wreaked by typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng.”
Since the elections were nearing then, the committee failed to pass a House resolution on the dam operating protocol to make it official, he said.
In that “informal protocol,” experts of the National Power Corp. (Napocor), SRPC and DOE, among others, agreed that the San Roque Dam should adopt a preemptive release strategy to avoid a repeat of the huge flooding in Pangasinan during Pepeng.
Espino took the initiative to call on the Napocor to observe preemptive release of water from the dam based on the existing protocol, as heavy monsoon rains battered Pangasinan and other areas last week.
Engineer Rosendo So, one of those most affected by the flooding in 2009 and who filed a suit against Napocor and SRPC, said in the forum that what happened during Pepeng must not be repeated anymore.
He said he opted to file the court case so that Napocor and SRPC would be more cautious in releasing dam water.
So, however, thanked Napocor and SRPC this time, as water release during the monsoon rains was good and that Espino did constant follow-ups to avoid a repeat of the Pepeng disaster.
Dr. Glen Tabios, director of the National Hydraulics Research Center in the University of the Philippines and a member of National Water Research Board, said they had a 110-page report containing all their recommendations separate from the congressional investigation.
But he lamented that nothing happened because the recommendations were forgotten.
During emergencies, Cojuangco said everything should be clear-cut, thus the need for a permanent protocol.
While the recommendations were laudable, Cojuangco, however, said too many people from different agencies who need to carry out a decision, make the situation difficult.
Tabios himself cited the need to set up an “in-house, one-stop shop” of concerned government agencies to act on such matters as releasing water from the dam.
Vice Gov. Jose Ferdinand Calimlim, the provincial board’s presiding officer, said the “end-goal here is to come up with a firm protocol that would be followed by everybody.”
He gave assurance that the provincial government would immediately act on the protocol, as the board would hold parallel committee hearings with all agencies directly involved on the matter.
Calimlim echoed Espino’s sentiment that there had been an earlier protocol set for the San Roque Dam.
“The reason for this inquiry is because again that protocol was not followed and was apparently changed from time to time. The one deciding (on water release) is not here but in Manila,” he said.
“This dam does the operation but when there are questions in the minds of the people, it’s the local government units and the people on the ground who have to answer the questions (although) we have no control on the operation of this dam,” he added.
‘Rules changed from time to time’
Calimlim said the forum was important because the water release “could spell disaster if mishandled.”
“Why are the rules changed from time to time, why is it depending on the weather condition, why don’t we just come up with a protocol that must really be followed?” he said in Filipino.
Provincial administrator Rafael Baraan said that since the devastating floods resulting from the sudden release of 5,300 cubic meters per second (cms) of water from the San Roque Dam at the height of Pepeng in 2009, Espino has been relentless in overseeing the dam’s operation and closely monitoring the water elevation and discharges, especially during typhoons.
The site investigation and public hearing on Monday, he said, clearly showed how serious the provincial government is in ensuring the safety of local folk.
“So far, the governor has been successful in keeping the Napocor on its toes, and has achieved good results in constantly prodding the Napocor to undertake gradual and continual water discharges to keep the water elevation at manageable levels during typhoons, especially when there is a confluence of adverse weather factors such as what happened during the last three successive typhoons coinciding with a (low pressure area) and the southwest monsoon making the weather truly unpredictable. Can you blame Gov. Espino for acting on the side of caution?” Baraan said.
Meanwhile, engineer Virgilio Garcia, field-in-charge of the flood forecasting and warning system for dam operation at San Roque Dam, said they start spilling water when there is a weather disturbance within the area, the reservoir water level is at 280 meters above sea level (masl), the inflow is greater or equal to 500 cms, and rainfall collected upstream of San Roque is about 60 millimeters.
Last July 31, Garcia said San Roque carried out preemptive release of water, as the weather bureau reported rainfall.
He said they continue to release water now so they could promptly react if typhoon “Helen” would dump rainfall on the watershed upstream of San Roque.
He said they are allowed to go beyond 280 masl depending on the amount of water that would come into the reservoir. “As always, the inflow is greater than the outflow,” he said.