Reducing NRW: Combating water issues in the Philippines

Combating water issues in the Philippines

The Philippines is facing an enormous challenge in the water supply and sanitation sector. According to industry estimates, the Philippines is considered to be the fourth most vulnerable country in terms of climate change and its adverse effects on water security. Manila Water Company, Inc. is a publicly listed company with extensive experience in the Philippines’ water sector. It provides water supply, and wastewater and sanitation services to over 7.4 million consumers in 23 cities and municipalities of the East Zone of Metro Manila and Rizal province.

Issues and challenges

Metro Manila and other provinces in the Philippines have faced many issues with water supply management. The most critical one has been non-revenue water (NRW). Reasons such as pilferage and leaks have caused enormous water loss from the system. The major challenges associated with NRW include lack of readiness on the part of employees, high network losses and inefficiencies, organisational constraints, and lack of customer and community support.

According to a feasibility study conducted by the Asian Development Bank, water loss in the Philippines was around 60 per cent during the period under review. As per the estimates of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System of the Philippines, this included around 29 per cent water loss due to leakages, 15 per cent due to pilferage, 9 per cent due to errors in the metering systems and 7 per cent due to other reasons.

Efforts of Manila Water Company

In the last 25 years, Manila Water Company has been working with the government to transform the water distribution system. From a supply network covering only 26 per cent of consumers in Metro Manila, Manila Water Com­pany has now achieved 100 per cent coverage. It has also managed to bring down NRW in Metro Manila from 63 per cent to around 13 per cent. This has helped in increasing service coverage in the provinces, without needing an additional water source. The company has laid over 7,000 km of water pipelines in the provinces.

In January 2022, the Philippines government signed laws granting new franchises for water concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad, allowing the two firms to continue to operate for another 25 years in Metro Manila and its nearby provinces. The two concessionaires will establish, manage, operate, repair, rehabilitate, ex­pand and improve the waterworks and sewerage systems in their respective franchise areas, generate bills, and collect fees from their end-users for the services.

As of June 2022, the company has expanded its service coverage to a total of 1,132,976 water service connections. Of this, 95 per cent are for domestic consumption, and only 5 per cent are for commercial and industrial customers. In the last 10 years, Manila Water Company has increased its service connections by over 21 per cent in the east zone of Metro Manila. The company is committed to upgrading the existing system and constructing new facilities to ensure continuity in the east zone of the province.

Manila Water Company is also constructing a water treatment plant (WTP) in East Bay, which will draw water from the eastern part of Laguna lake. It entails an estimated investment of around PHP 2.7 billion. The WTP is part of the East Bay water supply system project, which is seeking to expand Manila Water Company’s services to more towns in the Rizal province. The WTP inclu­des a reservoir with a capacity of eight million litres per day (mld), an intake structure and a pum­ping station. It is being built with a dissolved air flotation system, multimedia and granular activated carbon filters and a reverse osmosis system.

Aside from laying and installing water mains, Manila Water Company continues to expand its sewer network for wastewater treatment using 41 sewage treatment plants. As of March 2022, the total length of sewer pipes laid was over 440 km. These lines ensure that wastewater from households and other residential establishments will pass through this sewer network for treatment, so that it is returned safely to waterbodies without polluting them. The company’s wastewater treatment capacity has increased from 40 mld at the start of its operations to 410 mld as of August 2022.

Metro Manila Company is also investing in digital initiatives in the water and wastewater sector. It is improving pressure and flow management using pressure reducing valves (PRVs), PRV controllers, pressure loggers and smart meters. It is also using remote monitoring and control in the water distribution network. Moreover, the com­pany is performing real-time monitoring with analytics of facilities and network operations with the help of operations monitoring and control centres, as well as mobile devices.

Further, as part of the National Clean-up Month (September 2022), Manila Water Company has pledged to perform clean-up activities in different parts of Metro Manila. Recently, together with volunteers from the public and private sectors, the company managed to haul a total of 3,500 sacks of garbage from the Manila Bay coastline. Protection of waterbodies is one of the key initiatives of the company, in order to promote proper management of wastewater and revive rivers and waterways.

The way forward

The Philippines’ government is working towards ensuring equal quality of service for all its citizens. This means a continuous investment in water security and service delivery projects, such as building new water treatment plants and upgrading the distribution system. According to the government’s estimates, a total investment of over PHP 1 trillion is required during 2020-2030 to achieve the country’s water supply and sanitation targets. This will ensure access to safe, sufficient, affordable and sustainable water supply and sanitation. The government, along with Manila Water Company, is standardising the water quality across all WTPs and ensuring that the distribution lines are compliant with the Philippine National Standards for Drinking Water. They take samples and perform tests for physical, chemical and microbiological parameters at regular intervals.

With inputs from a presentation by Rey Ann C. Dela Cruz, Water System Operations Head, Manila Water Company, Inc.