Saving our watersheds

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Concerned national government agencies, the city government, the Baguio Water District (BWD) and willing partners in the private sector were able to come to terms and put in place the fencing of the Baguio side of the Busol watershed in order to prevent further encroachments that will compromise its ability to produce substantial potable water that will supply at least 40 percent of the city’s requirement for potable water. The timely action of concerned stakeholders could contribute in significantly saving a huge portion of the forest reservation from being inhabited and ruin the state of the environment in the area. However, it seems the overall efforts to preserve and protect the Busol watershed from the proliferation of informal settlers is not enough because there is rampant encroachment in the La Trinidad portion of the watershed.

Initially, BWD started the ball rolling in the sourcing of funds for the realization of the noble fencing project as it was able to shell out some P3 million which was used to start up the fencing works. For its part, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) also committed a total of P17 million but only P11 million was initially downloaded to the DENR-CAR for its counterpart in the project. The city government also earmarked P10 million from its 2015 supplemental budget to help in fulfilling the fencing of the 112-hectare portion of the Baguio side of the watershed while the Fil-Am Golf Foundation set aside P5 million as its commitment to preserve and protect the watershed from further deterioration. On the part of the Baguio Regreening Movement (BRM), its leadership committed to raise funds from various fund raising activities in order to augment the available resources to raise the P34 million requirement in order to fence the perimeter of the Baguio side of the watershed.

We could not comprehend why informal settlers were able to build huge structures within prime portions of the watersheds amidst the presence of various individuals tasked to monitor the activities within the watershed and the presence of police stations supposed to bate the entry of construction materials within the reservation. Law enforcers and BWD security guards as well as members of the monitoring task force claimed they had been always vigilant in watching the activities of the initial inhabitants of the forest reservation, however, many people doubt the capability of those assigned to monitor the illegal activities in the area because of the sudden increase in the number of informal settlers in the area. It is sad to know that 33 percent of the Baguio side of the watershed has already been inhabited which means that the premier source of potable water supply for the city is now on the brink of extinction if no concrete action is done at the moment.

The effort to fence the Baguio side of the watershed seems to be futile if the 224-hectare portion of the watershed located within the jurisdiction of La Trinidad will not be similarly fenced to further prevent unabated encroachments which has been obviously tolerated. It is high time that the patches of commercial vegetable gardens should now be replaced with agro-forestry trees in order to help in sustaining the forest cover, protect the public from landslide-prone areas and increase its generation of potable water. Let us allow the depletion of the water supply in the watershed because there will come a time that people will be fighting tooth and nail for the sake of having sufficient supply of water.

Let us now wake up to the reality that it is high time to vegetate a larger portion of the watershed in order to allow the present and future generations to enjoy abundant water supply for their living. Let us no longer point an accusing finger to those who are responsible for the deterioration of the watershed but let us instead be proactive in all concerted efforts to regreen and protect the watershed from notable invasions by unscrupulous land speculators and informal settlers. We realize the need for them to have their own shelter but it should not be at the expense of the greater majority of the people who source their water from the protected area.

Concerned agency officials should not succumb to the petty reasons of informal settlers that they will help in efforts to preserve and protect the forest but let us be on guard for the worst case scenario. Law enforcers and members of the monitoring teams must star being vigilant in order to spare the remaining portions of the watershed which will be used for what it should serve for the people not only of Baguio and La Trinidad.

We call on the local officials of La Trinidad to be open-minded in accepting what should be done for the informal settlers that have invaded most portions of the watershed. They should remember that people of the capital town are having a difficulty in sourcing out their water, thus, they should not wait for the scarcity of water in the locality before waking up and saying that we were right in advocating for the protection and preservation of our watershed.

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