DENR approves environmental clearance of China-funded Kaliwa Dam project

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 23)— The Department of Environment and Natural Resources approved the environmental compliance certificate of the heavily opposed New Centennial Water Source – Kaliwa Dam project in provinces of Rizal and Quezon proposed by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System.

DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau issued the conditional ECC to MWSS on October 11 for the project, which aims to serve as an alternate supply source to prevent a water crisis in Metro Manila and nearby areas

EMB director Metodio Turrella said in the certificate that the water regulator is only allowed to start the ₱12.2-billion dam project after it secures the necessary permits from other pertinent government agencies, including the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, National Historical Commission of the Philippines and National Water Resources Board. It also called for strict and correct implementation of measures to lessen the construction’s impacts on community health and welfare as well as the environment.

Some of the conditions that MWSS must satisfy include:

- Conducting information, education and communication program to stakeholders, residents and all those who will be directly affected by the dam construction.

- Signing a memorandum of agreement with local government units for the Social Development Program six months upon receiving the certificate.

- Submitting an Indigenous Peoples Development Plan approved by the NCIP one year before it proceeds with the implementation phase creating a waste management program.

- Building a 20-meter wide buffer zone.

- Establishing reforestation and carbon sink programs. A carbon sink is a reservoir that absorbs carbon-containing chemical compounds.

The MWSS must also coordinate with the state weather bureau for flood forecasting and warning during dam operations. It should also conduct a quantitative risk assessment a month before the project begins and then five years after to mitigate the likelihood of danger the dam poses. The certificate may be cancelled if the MWSS fails to comply with the EMB's requirements. The MWSS will also have to pay P50,000-fine for every violation.

An estimated 600 million liters of water per day is expected to be provided during the first phase of the project implementation. The building of the proposed new water source is expected to displace thousands of informal settlers and residents, including the Dumagat indigenous group, from whom the MWSS needs to get free prior and informed consent.

China granted ₱12.2 billion in loans with low interest rates for the project in 2018.

The government has pushed for the dam's construction as thousands of Metro Manila and Rizal residents suffered from water interruptions earlier this year. This despite calls from environment groups such as Haribon to abandon the project because it will cause “long-term, irreversible environmental damage to the Sierra Madre and its biodiversity.” The project violates the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act, and the Expanded NIPAS Act as the project area covers the Kaliwa Watershed, which is a declared forest reserve and national park and wildlife sanctuary, Haribon added.