At the ‘center’ of water security research
At the ‘center’ of water security research
by Jessa Jael S. Arana

From being a habitat of biodiversity, down to regulating cell functions in organisms, water is the ultimate multi-purpose element that separates us from other planets and makes life on Earth possible.

While this resource covers about 70% of the Earth’s surface, less than 3% of it is fresh water. Of that, less than 1% is accessible and can be used for food, agriculture, and industry needs.

Today, access to water remains limited by factors such as geography and technology. This is further aggravated by stressors including climate change, natural disasters, and human activity, which not only diminish water quality but also make water less accessible to marginalized communities.

A problem of this magnitude requires a collaborative and transdisciplinary solution, a fact well-recognized by the UPLB Interdisciplinary Studies Center for Water, better known as the Water Center.

The two-year-old center has been in active pursuit of water security since it was officially formed in October 2017. Water Center has committed itself to activities that focus on expanding and coordinating science-based knowledge and practices on sustainably managing water for the benefit of the community.

The center currently pursues three projects.

First is “Assessing the resurgent irrigation development program in the Philippines,” led by Dr. Agnes Rola, a professor emeritus at the College of Public Affairs and Development.

According to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, its funding agency, this project aims to evaluate the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the irrigation program of the government by examining its engineering and governance aspects.

It examines both the national irrigation systems, which are directly managed by the government wherein farmers pay an irrigation fee per hectare, crop or season; and communal irrigation systems, which are constructed by the government in partnership with farmers through irrigation associations that later on take over in managing the irrigation system.

Two more projects that the Water Center is pursuing are the “Hydro-geological assessment of Mt. Iraya Watershed in Basco, Batanes,” and the “Ridge-to-reef disaster risk and climate change impact assessment of floods and droughts in the agricultural sector of Angat Watershed, Philippines.”

Both are led by the over-all chair of the Water Center, Dr. Patricia Ann J. Sanchez, a faculty member at the School of Environmental Science and Management (SESAM).

The research, based in Mt. Iraya Watershed, is carried out in partnership with the local government in order to establish baseline data about the watershed to ensure the sustainability of its services and management. An article from the SESAM website reported that the study works closely with local barangays to determine local issues and needs about water consumption in the community.

On the other hand, the Angat Watershed-based research seeks to provide a means of predicting the intensity of floods in the surrounding areas and help dam operators in the National Power Corporation (NPC) to make optimized decisions based on data gathered about the local landscape.

“It’s a tool that will guide the dam operators regarding when they can release the water without flooding the lowland areas and at the same time maximize power generation upstream,” said Dr. Sanchez of the research project.

“I want this to be a learning tool as well, like learning both ways,” added Dr. Sanchez. “Because the [dam] operators’ expert judgement can aid in fine tuning the decision, further optimizing the process.”

For this groundbreaking research, Dr. Sanchez was named Outstanding Young Scientist by the National Academy of Science and Technology in 2019.

These valiant first efforts of the Water Center in its first few years of existence hope to contribute toward water security in the country.

Photo from Water Center

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