DENR designates 3 irrigation sources as water quality management areas

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has designated as water quality management areas (WQMAs) three river sytems serving as natural sources of irrigation water that is crucial for agriculture and food production.

The three river systems are the Upper Amburayan River System in Benguet province, the Lower Amburayan River System in Ilocos Sur and La Union provinces, and the Dupong-Matlang-Merida River System in Leyte province.

In three separate administrative orders issued by Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, the DENR noted the “critical importance” of the three river systems as “sources of water for irrigation and other agricultural uses” for the towns and barangays within the WQMAs.

Cimatu said this latest set of WQMA designations is “particularly premised on the food security program of the Duterte administration.”

He said the river systems will now be placed under close monitoring by authorities to ensure that their respective water quality complies with the standards set forth under Republic Act No. 9275, or the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004.

“It is important that irrigation water sources like rivers remain ecologically balanced so that healthy water can flow unimpeded to the agricultural sites and communities that need it,” Cimatu said.

The entire Amburayan River covers almost 130,000 hectares, starting from Benguet and traverses through La Union and Ilocos Sur where it empties into the West Philippine Sea. It is divided into two river systems.

The Upper Amburayan River System consists of six Benguet towns that comprise the so-called “Salad Bowl” and “Strawberry Capital” of the Philippines.

Aside from fruit and vegetable farming, almost all barangays in those towns are also into flower production and cattle and poultry raising.

The Lower Amburayan River System, on the other hand, covers a total of 100 agricultural barangays in Ilocos Sur and La Union that produce rice and corn.

The National Irrigation Authority listed the watershed area of the whole Amburayan River as one of the most vital watersheds in the country that directly support a total of 140 river irrigation systems.

Meanwhile, the Dupong-Matlang-Merida River System, which straddles along three agricultural and coastal towns of Isabel, Merida and Palompon in Leyte, irrigates 52 agricultural barangays covering over 14,000 hectares.

At the same time, Merida has been named by the Department of Tourism as one of the “tourism farms” in Eastern Visayas under its agri-tourism program campaign dubbed “It’s More Fun in Philippine Farms.” The town is known for its flourishing high value fruit production, pristine beaches and scenic waterfalls.

Under R.A. 9275, the DENR is mandated to designate certain sites as WQMAs using appropriate physiographic units such as watershed, river basins, or water resources regions to effectively enforce its provisions and improve the water quality of water bodies.

The law seeks to provide a decentralized management system for water quality protection and improvement of river systems.

The DENR is tasked to create a governing board for each WQMA, which is chaired by the regional director of the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB). Its members include the mayor and governor of the concerned local government unit and representatives of relevant national government agencies, duly registered non-government organizations, and business and water utility sectors.

The governing board serves as a planning, monitoring and coordinating body. It also reviews the WQMA action plan prepared by concerned EMB local office.

Cimatu’s latest administrative orders bring to 34 the total number of WQMAs nationwide since the enactment of R.A. 9275 in 2004. Of the 34 WQMAs, 18 are in Luzon, 6 in Visayas and 10 in Mindanao. ###