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El Niño to blame for Manila Water woes? Data doesn’t support it

Ralf Rivas

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El Niño to blame for Manila Water woes? Data doesn’t support it
The MWSS and PAGASA are not buying Manila Water's explanation that El Niño and the La Mesa Dam's low water level triggered the service interruptions


MANILA, Philippines – Ayala-led Manila Water repeatedly told media outlets and the public that El Niño and the low water level in the La Mesa Dam caused the widespread and surprise water service interruptions in parts of Metro Manila and Rizal.

However, the company left out several details as to where Metro Manila gets its water supply.

Data also does not support the claims of the company. Even experts and regulators seemed to refute the explanation.


Where does Metro Manila get its water supply from? Manila Water said it implemented operational adjustments amid the declining water supply in the La Mesa Dam.

The dam’s water level is at a critical level of 69 meters, a 12-year low.

But this does not give the entire picture, as water from the La Mesa Dam is only a reserve in case the Angat Dam’s supply gets too low.

Around 96% of Metro Manila’s water needs are supplied by the Angat Dam.

What is the situation in the Angat Dam? Data from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) showed that the water level of the Angat Dam is around 200 meters, below the normal level of 212 meters.

While it is below the normal level, it has not reached the critical level of 195 meters.

What do the experts say? Hydrologists and climate experts from PAGASA are puzzled as to why Manila Water is attributing the supply issues to the La Mesa Dam’s low water level.

PAGASA is also not convinced that El Niño is to blame for the water service interruptions.

“Kung El Niño ito, dapat ‘yung ibang dams din nagbabaan, eh hindi naman,” said Rusy Abastillas of PAGASA’s Climate Monitoring and Prediction Section.

(If it were El Niño, all dam levels should have dipped as well, but that’s not the case.)

Moreover, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System Administrator Reynaldo Velasco told CNN Philippines that the water from the Angat Dam is still “enough.”

“I think Manila has always been drawing some water from La Mesa Dam. I told them that’s supposed to be reserve, but they have been drawing water. That’s why it’s now on its low,” Velasco said.

How about Maynilad? Manila Water has been suffering supply woes, but its West Zone counterpart Maynilad is not. Both companies draw water from the Angat Dam.

“Right now, Maynilad is not affected by a supply crunch due to El Niño. We get our raw water supply directly from Angat Dam, which is currently at a normal level,” Maynilad corporate communications head Jennifer Rufo said.

Rappler repeatedly texted Manila Water for an interview, but did not get a response from its corporate communications officers. – 

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Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.