“The dams, particularly San Roque Dam, are supposedly designed and used to control floods. However, the floodings these infrastructures have brought us prove that they were not really designed for that function. These dams just bring profit to their proponents and more harm than benefit to the people.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – If there’s any action that should be taken by government in the wake of the destruction caused by typhoon Pepeng (Parma), it is this: it should now consider decommissioning the dams that have contributed to the devastation, a progressive group of scientists has recommended.
These dams, particularly the San Roque Multipurpose Dam in San Manuel, Pangasinan, have been blamed for the massive flooding in Central Luzon. According to critics, officials of the San Roque Dam delayed the release of excess water in order to maximize their profit.
“The extent of devastation that was caused by the presence of the dams and the deliberate disregard of the operators and owners to the communities in the area calls should lead to the decommisioning of the dams,” said Dr. Giovanni Tapang, chairman of Agham, a progressive scientist group. “Because as long as the dams remain, it is likely that the similar tragedies will occur in the future as it has done so in the past.”
“The dams, particularly San Roque Dam, are supposedly designed and used to control floods. However, the floodings these infrastructures have brought us prove that they were not really designed for that function. These dams just bring profit to their proponents and more harm than benefit to the people,” Tapang said.
Criticism against San Roque Dam now centers on its decision to delay the release of excess water. According to Tapang and other scientists, Oct. 4 could have been the perfect timing for the dam administrators to release water as it reached 280 meters above sea level, the dam’s maximum water level threshold.
But they chose to wait for another few days. When Pepeng backtracked and brought in more rain, the water level exceeded the maximum level, forcing the administrators to release water beginning on Oct. 8.
Geologist Catherine Abon, also of Agham, said that reaching the “maximum exceptional level” should only be allowed to happen in 1 out of 100 circumstances. In an effort to save the dam structure, the administrators had to open the six spillways, causing massive flooding in the provinces of Pangasinan and Pampanga. Clearly, the timing is wrong, Abon said.
“The San Roque Power Corporation obviously prioritized their revenues. In return, they have compromised the lives and livelihood of the people living in the lowlands,” Tapang said.
He added that the dam’s main function is to provide electricity, producing 345 megawatts of power. He said the dam is one of the cheapest sources of energy in the country and was built in 1998 to harness the power of the Agno River, called “the river of dreams.”
Tapang thinks that the dam administrators chose to keep the water in the reservoir because the higher the water level, the more energy the turbines could produce. When Quedan entered the Philippines, it pulled back the already exiting Pepeng, which returned with more rainfall causing the dam to reach almost the 290-meter maximum exceptional level on Oct. 7.
The administrators were forced to release water the next day, opening six of its spillways to prevent the dam from collapsing. Tapang said that if only the dam administrators gradually released the water beginning Oct. 4, the damage that the heavy flooding caused could have been mitigated.
Abon, the geologist, said that one of the protocols of hydrology is for dams to release water based on the normal rate of the waterways on which it would flow. “The normal flow of the river is roughly 800 cubic meters per second. But since they (San Roque Dam) were hurrying the release of the water, they released billions of liters per hour.”
The National Power Corporation claims that they followed strict protocols such as the dissemination of information to the local government unit of the towns that would be affected. But Tapang said that the government still lacked in its effort to issue flood warnings and implement evacuation systems. “No wonder that when a rumor circulated through text messages that the San Roque dam had cracked, the people panicked. They evacuated the area but they did not know where to go,” he said.