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Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Philippines: Northern Mine Switching to Water


October 2005

In the mountain resort of Baguio City, Philippines, a mining town during the U.S. colonial era, water has become such a precious commodity that one of the biggest gold mines here is switching from producing gold to water. FROM GOLD MINING TO WATER STORAGE Benguet Corp Inc. (BCI), among the biggest and earliest mining operators in this South-east Asian country, is closer to converting its open-cast mine into one giant water reservoir to service the needs of the 300,000 residents of this town, a popular tourist town for Filipinos escaping the summer heat in the lowlands. The BCI was awarded a contract by the local water utility to undertake the bulk water project which cost almost 3 billion pesos (53.4 million dollars). It would involve the delivery of about 50,000 cubic metres of treated water daily to Baguio. The water would be sourced from the Antamok River, which would then fill up the reservoir. The area is located in Antamok village in Itogon town, about seven kilometres from the city proper, which also means that a pipeline would have to be constructed. The reservoir would be the old Grand Antamok Project, an open cast mine that operated for six years until its suspension in 1998. BCI said that it would convert the mined-out pit into a giant reservoir with a seven million cubic meter capacity, saying this not only meets water needs but is an ideal rehabilitation solution for the mined-out area. The project would have a 25-year duration and can be renewed for 25 more years. The company expects to start by the last quarter of 2005. The bulk water project is a superior mine rehabilitation solution, BCI said. Instead of the original plan of back filling the (Antamok) open pit, the entire mining area will be re-engineered and converted to alternative land use.

THE ISSUE OF WATER SAFETY But critics say the shortage of water in Baguio City a long festering problem for years that peaks in summer when taps and toilets run dry is not being addressed in the right and safe way. The old mine site still contains heavy metals like lead, cadmium, magnesium and mercury, said Chie Valdez of the Tongtongan ti Umili (Public Forum), a Baguio-based nongovernment group. We have lost the right to safe and potable water. But Antonio Espiritu, the chairman of the Baguio Water District which awarded the project to BCI, says that the mining company would put up a testing station at the border of the city and Itogon town. If the water is not safe, we can always refuse it. It is BCIs duty to bring us safe water, Espiritu said. BCI adds that rehabilitation of the Antamok gold mine is the first time that a novel approach to mine rehabilitation and decommissioning is being applied to mined-out areas. This activity is a part of the company's commitment to corporate social responsibility and sustainable development. LAND-USE ISSUES Residents of Itogon, meantime, say they should be the first priority of the project and want their livelihoods, displaced by the big mining activities, back. Frank Almoza, a youth leader of Loacan village in Itogon, said that their small-scale mining activities would be displaced by the reservoir. Almoza said that his forefathers had been mining the area for decades before Benguet and other mining corporations took over. Now that they are finished with their mining, they should return the land to us, Almoza pointed out. But the Baguio Water District board said that the company has been determined to have complied with the requirements of the bidding process and the terms of references when it awarded the contract to BCI.

THE ISSUE OF PRICE But Baguio Mayor Braulio Yaranon raised concern about the high price that Baguio residents would be paying for the project. Espiritu projects that once the project delivers water, residents would pay 70 to 80 pesos (1.27 to 1.45 dollars) per cubic meter. The current price is a minimum of 225 pesos (4 dollars) for the first 10 cubic meters, or 22 .5 pesos (40 cents) a cubic meter - less than 30 percent of the figure Espiritu cites. Why should we pay that much? Water is our right, insisted Chie Galvez, assistant secretary general of the non-government group Tongtongan ti Umili. The city's supply of water through the local water district is 35,000 cubic meters a day, against the average demand of 52,000 cubic meters, forcing many households without water services to buy water from private truck-delivery services. For the past 30 years, most of the residents of the 52 square kilometer city have been receiving water three times a week, and only at certain hours. That is, if they get water at all, because the water district only services two-thirds of the population. It is undergoing a 500 million peso (8.9 million dollar) re-piping project so that all households would be serviced by the water district, and eventually by the Benguet project.

_______________________________ Based on the article of Tess Raposas, Asia Water Wire journalist The views expressed in this article are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. Terminology used may not necessarily be consistent with ADB official terms. *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in October 2005: http://www.adb.org/water/actions/PHI/Northern-Mine.asp. The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADBs member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADBs Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.