Saving Panigan-Tamugan Watershed for the Future

April 24th, 2016 by

DAVAO CITY – The Panigan-Tamugan watershed, while not really well-known, has recently been in the limelight due to the attention given to its surface waters.

As a sub-watershed area belonging to the main Davao River Basin, the watershed area is located in the Baguio District and adjacent to the Talomo-Lipadas Watershed, which is currently the source of Davao’s drinking water.

In the late 1990s, faced with the problem of dwindling ground water in the aquifers of Talomo-Lipadas, the Davao City Water District (DCWD) sought other viable sources of drinking water in the region to allow the aquifers to recharge.

As it turned out, only Panigan-Tamugan’s surface waters had the sufficient flow and volume to meet the city’s needs. In a city surrounded by eight watersheds, it is the only watershed that can easily meet the national drinking water quality requirement.

But more than a source to tap water for the city’s future drinking needs, Panigan-Tamugan is also a critical environmental hotspot.

In 2011, the watershed advocacy group Interface Development Interventions commissioned a resource assessment study of the PT watershed. Among others, the study revealed that the watershed’s remaining primary growth forests host a substantial diverse and endemic population of plants and animals. Several species have already been categorized as threatened under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines, marking the importance of the watershed as an area for protection and conservation.

The need to protect the watershed is made even more urgent especially since it continues to face threats from hunting, deforestation and pollution from chemical-intensive agriculture in the surrounding areas.

The city’s Business Bureau has listed some 8 monocrop agricultural companies operating in Davao City, producing bananas and pineapples for the export market. This does not include the small farmers who have been contracted by these companies to grow similar crops, using the same chemical-intensive methods.

For IDIS and other similar groups working in the uplands, the threat of pesticide contaminating water resources and endangering the lives of upland farming communities is an urgent danger that needs to be immediately addressed. As part of its IEC campaigns, IDIS engaged upland communities to form volunteer groups to conduct community-based river water quality monitoring and conducted riverbank rainforestation activities. In another front, wildlife conservation group Philippine Eagle Foundation continued its efforts to conserve flora and fauna. Meanwhile, the Davao City Water District (DCWD) continues to implement its community reforestation initiatives through its Adopt-A-Site program.

In 2010, the City passed its Watershed Ordinance, which mandated a Watershed Management Council (WMC) to implement measures to protect and sustainably manage the city’s eight watersheds. IDIS, in its role as civil sector representative to the WMC, pushed for a more pro-active approach to sustainably manage Panigan-Tamugan and other watersheds.

Such approach includes the formulation of the watershed stakeholders management plan that will ensure the sustainable management of the watershed’s resources. While still in its nascent stages, the plan will operationalize a “ridge to reef” framework of conserving the watershed. Simply put, this means linking river basin rehabilitation initiatives with similar initiatives in the coast because what happens in the uplands also affects the lowlands and the gulf.

Currently, the Watershed Multipartite Monitoring Team (WMMT) regularly monitors the farms operating in the watershed to make sure that these do not contaminate the rivers and the environment. It has already prepared a survey work plan that will delineate Panigan-Tamugan’s conservation and non-tillage areas. Under the Watershed Code, these two areas define the coverage of the watershed area and therefore, and will be critically important in the WMC’s work of sustainably managing Davao’s watershed resources. It has also implemented an Environmental Tax for businesses operating in the watershed areas to encourage environmentally positive behavioural change among agricultural farms .

But old habits die hard. There are still those who stubbornly hold on to old consumerist patterns which lead to other problems like unsustainable resource use and improper waste disposal. And the lure of Davao’s watersheds continue to attract out-of-town investments, out for a quick buck without any thought for the city’s future.

In the upland communities, however, the mind-set is slowly shifting. People are realizing that there are long-term benefits towards protecting the watershed. From forming volunteer groups of forest guards, to participating in regular barangay -level watershed monitoring visits, upland communities are pitching in to ensure the protection of the watershed.

Similarly, in the lowlands, there is now a growing interest in watershed conservation by different stakeholders from both government and private sectors. This March, the WMC is set to launch its Adopt-A-Riverbank program which allows individuals and groups to adopt and sponsor the rainforestation of riverbanks in the eight rivers of Davao City.

In this era of climate change, the need for watershed protection is more urgent since proper management of these critical areas are important strategies for the city to mitigate the effects of climate change. And the WMC is up to the challenge. (Misael Paranial /EDGE DAVAO, Special Supplement)