An executive order prioritizing watershed rescue is being pushed for urgent passage by forest experts in order to counter effects of climate-linked calamities and ensure replenishment of irrigation and hydro-electric or geothermal energy sources.

The Forest Management Bureau (FMB)-Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is drafting an EO that will elevate to national strategy status its “Save Our Watershed” movement.

“This will pave the way for the establishment of institutional mechanisms for collaborative or whole-of-society efforts in conserving our watersheds,” said DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu at a launch of the Save Our Watershed (SOW) campaign last week.

It is extremely important for watersheds– forests that are sources of water that are “shed” into rivers, lakes, and seas—to be protected, according to Energy Development Corp. (EDC) Assistant Vice President Allan Barcena.

“Protecting  watersheds is not only a corporate social responsibility program for us.  It is part of our business strategy.  When we’re protecting the watershed, it means our geothermal resource is sustained. If we don’t protect our watershed, our geothermal steam is not sustained. So for us it’s both a commitment and a business strategy and mission.”

EDC runs 12 geothermal-powered power plant in Leyte, Bicol, Southern Negros, and North Cotabato with an installed capacity of 1,179 megawatt.

FMB Director Marcial Amaro said he expects the EO to be filed with Malacanang before the end of the year.

The SOW campaign is being supported by the  DENR’s Forestland Management Project (FMP).

Eigo Azukizawa, chief of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)-Philippines, which co-finances  FMP, said the SOW campaign hopes to avert destructive effects of calamities.  The Typhoon Ulysses in November last year, he said, affected three million people in Cagayan Valley who suffered from flooding.

“To see people on top of their houses submerged in flood is heart-breaking.”

SOW-FMP has targeted to protect 71,300 hectares of forests within the critical wastersheds of Upper Magat and Cagayan, Upper Pampanga, and Jalaur (Panay Island).

As of 2019, there are 131 critical priority watersheds in the Philippines  that support water facilities, hydroelectric power plants, and irrigation systems.

For one the Cagayan River Basin irrigates around 300,000 hectares of rice fields.

The Jalaur River Basin in Iloilo with an area of 1,503 square kilometres can supply 90,611 million cubic meters of water.

“Everyday we use water in our homes for drinking, washing, and watering our plants. We ensure the constant supply of water to our homes by taking part in saving the watersheds,” according to SaveOurWatershedPH.

The Magat Hydroelectric Power Plant, one of the largest hydro facilities in Luzon, produces a maximum output of 388 megawatts and draws water from the Magat River.

SOW-PH said 10% of electricity requirements in the Philippines may be supplied by hydropower generation.

“The water that runs through Magat River comes from the Magat Watershed located in Ifugao, Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya. This means part of the electricity that powers our homes comes from water. When water becomes scarce, the electricity generated is less and can cause power outages in Luzon.”

“The Philippines has a lot of hydropower potential, but it is up to us to harness this potential.”

Twenty-four subwatersheds covered by Upper Magat-Cagayan, Upper Pampanga and Jalaur River Basins lose around 1 million tons of soil amounting to P 140 million per year.

“Soil loss is when the top layer of fertile soil is removed and goes to rivers and other places. It results in loss of nutrients for the trees. Another serious consequence of continued soil loss is landslides. Trees and other plants are important in conserving soil and water resources. These help hold the fertile top layer of soil to prevent landslides and flooding.”

A DENR study as of 2015 indicated a total of 14.375 million hectares of forestland in the county remains, but these only have a forest cover of 18%.

Priority watersheds include 3.004 million hectares in Region 3; 1.76 million hectares in Region 11; 1.637 million hectares in Region 2; and 1.573 million hectares in CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region).

“Soil erosion is considered as one of the worst problems of most watersheds in the country, with estimates of between 74 and 81 million tons of soil being lost annually.  Between 63% and 77% of the country’s total land area are affected,” reported the DENR study.

“Thirteen of the country’s 73 provinces have over half of their land area affected by moderate to severe erosion. Sedimentation has reduced the storage capacity of the country’s major reservoirs affecting water supplies for domestic, industrial, irrigation, and power generation.”

Ironically, the same people who need water for their many purposes contribute largely to watershed destruction.

“The population that relies on the goods and services watersheds provide steadily grows, creating more pressure for the already overburdened natural resources in the watersheds.”(MELODY AGUIBA)