The House Committee on Appropriation has tentatively approved an initial P2-billion outlay for the proposed Department of Water Resources (DWR) the National Water Act bill seeks to create. The bill is currently discussion in Congress.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, senior vice chairman of the House Appropriation Committee, said the National Water Act bill responds to the urgent public clamor for better water services echoed many times by President Duterte himself. It will integrate under one roof the government’s fragmented water resources management systems and pursue a sustainable and science-based program for the wise use and conservation of the country’s vital water resources.
The bill also seeks to establish a Water Regulatory Commission (WRC) under the DWR. It consolidates about 30 proposals, two of which, HBs 2997 and 4944, were authored by Salceda himself, who also chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.
The proposed DWR budget also includes the yearly allocation for its attached agencies. Owing to its urgency, Salceda said lawmakers expect Congress to pass the measure shortly.
The measure lays down an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) system as its basic framework, to ensure and accelerate universal public access to water and sanitation services, in a regulatory regime that encourages responsible private sector participation and involvement, fosters and prioritizes infrastructures which adopt innovative solutions and international best practices to address the challenges of climate change, said Salceda.
He noted that the “continued overlapping and fragmented regulation and management on water resources and services hinder the development of a comprehensive, integrated and doable long-term solutions to address keen competitions, imbalanced resources utilization and conflict of interest among water users, especially in areas already identified as water-stressed.”
Salceda said the DWR shall be the primary agency charged with formulating a comprehensive and integrated scheme on policy and program planning; and management systems for the ownership, appropriation, utilization, exploitation, development, protection of water resources in the country, except for fisheries or aquaculture.
The DWR, he said, will ensure the optimal use of water for domestic and commercial supply, sanitation, irrigation, hydropower, industry, navigation, flood management, recreation, fisheries and aquaculture. It will also be tasked to implement PD 1067 and RA 9275, known as the Water Code and Clean Water Act, respectively.
“Water use is a right. All water belongs to the state, which shall govern its development and use for the people. Access to water is a basic right,” Salceda stressed, adding that the measure declares all water and water treatment infrastructure projects as projects imbued with national interest.
“The measure also empowers the department on policy making, planning, management and regulation of water resources; directs the development pf institutional arrangements with public water organizations and ensure coordination with all stakeholders for all water resource development, integration and management activities, including sanitation, flood control, flood risk management and drought risk management,” said Salceda.
He said the bill likewise allows the department to create, when necessary, water resource subsidiaries, instrumentalities and entities to engage in water transmission, water distribution, waste water treatment and management, and sanitation in accordance with existing relevant laws.
Under the proposal, the DWR is allowed to enter into contracts, joint venture agreements or understanding, public-private partnerships, and memorandum of agreements or understanding, either domestic or foreign relating to investment and financing water-related projects, under such terms and conditions as it may deem proper and reasonable, subject to existing laws.
Salceda said the bill also authorizes the DWR Secretary to act as the chairman of the governing boards of the agencies that are attached to the department. Identified as DWR attached agencies are the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA).
The bill, Salceda explained, creates the Water Pollution Adjudication Board to assume the powers and functions of the National Pollution Control Commission with respect to the adjudication of water pollution cases, and the National Water Sector Policy Board to approve the National Water Resources Management Framework Plan. The WRC assumes the economic regulatory units and functions of the MWSS, NWRB, LWUA, SBMA, PEZA, and TIEZA.
The measure also requires the registration and licensing of all water supply and/or sanitation services. It likewise seeks to create a Water Trust Fund to be utilized for water development, water sanitation and waste water treatment and management, and water sustainability programs and projects authorized under this proposal.