Tabuk council stops hydro operation

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TABUK CITY, Kalinga – The city council recommended the temporary suspension of the business permit of the Bulanao Hydroelectric Power Plant until such time that the demands of the Upper Chico River Irrigation System (UCRIS) farmers have been fully addressed or complied.

Under Resolution No. 150, series of 2021, the council learned during a dialogue with the Tabuk Irrigator’s Association that since their consultation last year, some of the major agreements in the joint investigation report supposedly for the equal benefit of all the parties involved were not followed to the detriment of the farmers along the irrigation system.

The attention of the body was called on the complaint of the farmers of the UCRIS concerning the operation of the Bulanao hydro because of the alleged plant’s negative effect on the supply of irrigation water for their farms aside from the uncontrolled flooding downstream.

Earlier, farmers in barangays Lacnog East and Agbannawag submitted separate petitions addressed to National Irrigation Administration (NIA) Administrator Ricardo Visaya to order the closure of the Bulanao hydro plant for allegedly causing undue shortage of irrigation water for their farmlands.

In the said petitions, the signatories claimed that increasing the volume of water beyond the needs of farmers in the area passing through the hydro plant and denying them of much needed water for irrigation purposes in their respective barangays and farm areas being serviced by the UCRIS main canal is a grave violation of the rationale and equitable distribution and utilization of water for irrigation purposes which is at the core of NIA’s mandate.

Barangays Lacnog East and Agbannawag are primarily agricultural communities where 90 percent of families depend on rice farming as a source of food and livelihood.

The petitioners stated that ever since the operation of the Bulanao hydro power plant in mid-2016, they had observed that the shortage of irrigation water has gone worst causing postponement in planting schedules and damaged many existing crops and that they had found out that the main cause of the reduction of their water allocation is the alleged unreasonable increase in the water going to the turbine of the hydro plant.

According to the petitions, it is the belief of the farmers that the operator of the hydro plant has allegedly deliberately and unlawfully increased the volume of water passing through the power plant to increase the power output, sell more electricity and rake in more profit at their expense.

Mayors Jose Calderon and Jimmy Gamazon, Jr. of Mallig and Quezon, Isabela respectively, also wrote the NIA Administrator complaining on the alleged interruption of the irrigation water being provided by the UCRIS to the farmlands of the farmers in their respective areas of jurisdiction and that the same was primarily due to the operation of the hydro plants.

The aforementioned mayors supported and endorsed the joint resolution of different irrigators associations for the temporary closure of the operation of the plant.

Based on the joint resolution of the irrigators associations, the NIA-Kalinga Integrated Management Office recommended the temporary suspension of operations of the 1-megawatt Bulanao hydroelectric power plant or up to the time that all issues, including the rental fee, shall have been resolved by the concerned parties.

Meanwhile DPJ Engineers and Consultants posted in their FB Page a letter from NIA-CAR Regional Manager Benito Espique Jr. dated August 16 2021 addressed to the temporary presiding officer of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Tabuk City. Hon. Martinez T. Vicente, stating that after thorough study by the NIA-Kalinga IMO, it was established that the control of water  is not via the intake but through the valve and/or vane at the BHEPP’s turbine.

The letter added that DPJ Engineers and Consultants had conscientiously complied with the monetary obligation to pay the rental fees on time based on what was stipulated in the Memorandum of Agreement.

“The question on the alleged over diversion of the BHEPP which sometimes caused flooding to the nearby community of Bulanao Norte was also brought up in the August 25, 2020 conference. Field validators showed that during heavy rains, surface runoffs amplified the flood waters from the creek flooding portions of the nearby community of Bulanao Norte. Indeed, the office cannot establish the connection between the operation of BHEPP and the alleged flooding of the above stated communities,” the letter added. By HENT

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