HAVING grown up with it throughout his life, twenty four-year-old Randy Legaspi has a deep affection for the Panigan river. During his childhood, the river was the place where he could take a quick swim and play around with his childhood friends. But today’s river is but a shadow of its former self. This is the reason why Legaspi, along with members of the Mt. Tipolog Bantay Kinaiyahan Association (MTBKA), began to be concerned about the slow deterioration of the river.
This concern led him to join Bantayo Aweg, a community volunteer group which has been monitoring the quality of the river water for years now. Taken from the Bagobo term which means water guardians, the group is composed of volunteers from the community of Tawantawan, which is situated close to Panigan river. Once a month, rain or shine, this group takes water samples from the river as part of an ongoing community initiative to monitor water quality.
Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) Environmental Research Specialist Ann Fuertes, who helped train the pioneer batch in 2005, said that the project was geared towards making the local community be better informed about the issues affecting their local river.
“Despite the presence of basic services in the area, they still depend on the river for a lot of things. By putting them at the forefront of monitoring efforts, they can best make decisions on how to tackle them,” she said.
So far, it has been working. Baneng Tiostumban, 24 years old and part of the second generation of Bantayo Aweg volunteers, can compare the state of Panigan river before and after the initiative was started.
“Before Bantayo Aweg started, the river was a dumping ground for broken bottles. And villagers were using a lot of chlorine when washing in the rivers,” he said.
Today, that practice has been discontinued. However, other threats continue to exist. “There is no more garbage but the river is still far from clean,” he said. “But if we work hard now, we can perhaps bring back the river to what it truly was years ago.”
Bantayo Aweg has collected 6 years of water sampling data, creating a picture of the river’s quality over time. According to Fuertes, the Panigan river has still a long way to go before reaching Class AA, which is the highest ranking in quality for water. Basing on standards used by the Environmental Management Bureau, the organization’s data shows that the river generally falls under the Class A category which means that the river is still fit for drinking, despite the occasional periods of high phosphate and nitrite content.
This is good news for Davao City, according to the Davao City Water District. The DCWD has identified Panigan river and its sister tributary, Tamugan river, as the future source of Davao’s potable water which has been ranked as one of the best in the world.
At the annual presentation of the group’s monitoring to the local barangay council last March 14, 2012, the DCWD was among the participants who listened to their presentation. DCWD, who also regularly conducts monitoring of the water quality among the rivers of the Panigan-Tamugan watershed area is hopeful that the initiative will continue on a long-term basis.
“We commend the group’s initiative because it complements the efforts of the DCWD to create more awareness and stakeholdership on the issue of Davao City’s water resources. The more individuals and groups contributing towards the preservation of the quality of our waters, the more pressure for government agencies to implement policies to protect our waters,” said Anji Laura Grecia, a member of the DCWD’s Environmental Unit.
But threats still remain. Tawantawan is surrounded by banana and pineapple plantations whose intensive use of pesticides threatens water quality. During heavy rains, the run-off from the plantations carries the agricultural inputs to the rivers. The absence of buffer zones, planted with proper trees, along the river banks, compound the problem.
“Buffer zones are important because their trees absorb the water and silt coming from plantations and denuded areas,” said Rey Sapid, Advocacy Officer of the Kinaiyahan Amumahon Panggaon ug Protektahan, Inc. (KAPPI).
“Their roots trap the pesticides, ensuring that river waters are protected.”
The KAPPI is an environmental paralegal group of farmers and lumads from the 3rd district which has taken up the advocacy of buffer zone implementation for the district’s remaining forest and water resources.
“And yet, most of the plantations in the 3rd district, have not been implementing or have been implementing buffer zones which are contrary to what is mandated by law,” Sapid said.
The Watershed Code of Davao City requires that a buffer zone of about 40 meters must be established between plantations and critical areas such as recharge zones, riverbanks, rivers, springs, wells and other sources of water.
KAPPI, which also has members in Tawantawan, is now actively engaging in an information campaign about the importance of buffer zones in protecting the rivers.
Meanwhile, all this support has made Legaspi thankful.
“We’re glad that this initiative is doing its share to contribute to the greater campaign for the preservation of Davao’s water. We hope that as we continue to do this yearly, more communities along the rivers will be encouraged to be vigilant and protective of our water resources,” he said.
For IDIS, which has made it its advocacy to campaign for clean water and healthy watersheds, there is still much to be done in the preservation of the river.
“We need to adopt a watershed approach since the Panigan river is not an isolated system. We need the cooperation of all stakeholders, from farming communities to even plantations along the watershed area.
Monitoring can be a start, but it’s the widespread adoption of better agricultural land use practices, like practicing organic farming and establishing proper buffer zones, which will help ensure that Davao will still have an abundant source of clean water to draw from for generations to come,” Fuertes said. (Sunstar Davao Weekend)