March 22, 2022
Behind the common knowledge on groundwater being a vital resource for human consumption, irrigation processes, and industrial operations, it also has a critical role for groundwater-dependent ecosystems or GDE.
GDEs present significant economic and ecosystem value as they offer tourism opportunities, tangible goods, agricultural products, etc. They also prevent dryland salinity and maintain the groundwater geochemistry, carbon and nutrient sequestration, soil stability, erosion restraint, land and water quality, runoff catch.
A common misinterpretation is that groundwater accumulates on underground lakes or rivers, where in fact, it amasses on the cracks and pores in soils and rocks that fully saturates the subsurface. (Photo from usgs.gov)
Groundwater sustains different types of systems—aquatic, terrestrial, and coastal—by providing input flow that maintains the water level and physio-chemical parameters for the flora and fauna. And in order for these GDEs to thrive, groundwater is much needed to maintain its diversity, ecological processes, and ecosystem services.
Hence, once shall understand the significant role of groundwater to GDEs in protecting and preventing extensive environmental degradation.
It depicts here how groundwater-dependent ecosystems are being affected by groundwater exploitation leading to an imbalance between human and environmental needs. (Photo from Gorelick S.M. and Zheng C., 2015)
The climate crisis, compounded with the escalation of agriculture and population growth, threatens freshwater resources globally. Climate change, worsened by human activities and natural inconsistencies, causes wetter wet seasons and drier dry seasons. The varying rainfall patterns, and changes in recharge, evapotranspiration, and water abstraction deeply impacts both the quality and quantity of groundwater. The imbalance between water demand and supply due to climate change strains groundwater resources.
The declining trend of groundwater level poses an adverse effect for the Filipino people considering that our country is considered a heavy user of groundwater. Annually, a decrease in both the quality and quantity of groundwater in the Philippines has been recorded. Since 1995, the groundwater in Metro Manila alone has been declining at a rate as much as 5 to 12 meters per year.
On the other hand, saltwater intrusion that intensifies with climate change has been found to affect viable freshwater from groundwater. With these threats, biodiversity losses are expected, and social and economic activities will altogether be disrupted.
Prinza Water Dam on the boundary of Bacoor, Cavite, and Las Piñas, Metro Manila which is at a lower level in the summer of 2019.
In my stay in Metro Manila for seven years, I have experienced numerous rotational water interruptions. Imagine waking up early morning to prepare for work or school only to find out that there is no water in the faucets and showers. People purchase huge drums to store water in circumstances of scheduled water interruption.
Had there been no efforts and actions done to preserve groundwater, the public shall expect frequent water interruptions and expensive water rates in the future.
Back in the summer of 2018, we experienced frequent rotational water interruption. Condominium tenants in Paco, Manila line-up with containers to get water supply from a truck of water.
Groundwater Resources Management Plan and Monitoring System for Zamboanga City was signed in the summer of 2018 by the NWRB and LGU. It aims to have real-time quality and quantity monitoring wells. (Photo from NWRB website)
First, there is this technologically engineered process called artificial groundwater recharge wherein excess water is used to replenish the aquifers. This process involves using technologies and machinery to increase the infiltrated and percolated water into the aquifers; hence, increasing the quantity of groundwater present in the area.
Introducing groundwater recharge technologies becomes advantageous as it could enhance groundwater levels while also preventing the decrease of water quality through reduced saltwater intrusion, utilization of wastewater, prevention of land subsidence, secondary oil recovery, crop development, stream flow augmentation, and freshwater storage.
Another example is the design of a remote real-time groundwater level and water quality monitoring system as part of the Philippine groundwater management plan. This aims to address recurring water shortages in the Philippines by providing quantitative data for policymakers. The process is imperative to regularly monitor and assess the rate of potential groundwater recharge since over-extraction could dry up wells and water contamination might harm consumers including farms and livestock downstream.
Definitely. Sustainable Water Management must be a priority. The Philippines may currently have policies in the management of the national irrigation systems, particularly on surface water, but groundwater management must be comprehensively established.
GDEs are commonly disregarded and ecological approaches are rare in groundwater management when in fact, they must be integrated into the comprehensive plan. It is necessary to ascertain the location and extent of these ecosystems for the effective monitoring of GDEs in these changing climate conditions. These points must be incorporated into the improved sustainable groundwater management policies.
Currently, there is a lack of information consolidation, databasing, and exchange for integrated planning. There is a lack of data for existing maps of aquifers. There is a need to improve the information dissemination, and most importantly, the policy procedures implementation on the appropriation of groundwater resources. There is a lot of room for improvement on our current status on this matter, especially since this problem is being aggravated by the climate crisis.
With this, I am standing firm and calling the attention of those in position (and will be in position), specifically the presidential candidates, to act on this matter. Groundwater management must be enhanced. It must have effective coordination amongst involved agencies, clear integrated groundwater management, and mechanisms addressing sustainability issues.