Dams Under Scrutiny After Epic Cagayan Floods, What's Next?

Protocols are under review.
This handout aerial photo taken and received on Nov. 14, 2020 from the Philippine Coast Guard shows residents sheltering on the roof of their flooded house in Cagayan province.
Photo/s: Philippine Coast Guard via Agence France-Presse

The management of dams during typhoons should be reviewed, officials said Tuesday, after water unleashed by Magat Dam in the Cagayan Region triggered unprecedented flooding there, with residents saying they were caught off guard by the volume and speed of the inundation.

Officials of the National Irrigation Administration, which manages the country's dams, met with local officials in Cauayan, Isabela on Monday to "revisit protocols," NIA Dam and Reservoir Manager Eduardo Ramos told ANC. Water from the dam "contributed (nakadagdag)" to the floods in Cagayan, he said in response to a question.

Magat released water to prevent the structure from breaking, which would have caused a larger disaster, officials said. At the height of Typhoon Ulysses on Nov. 12 and until the next day, it had seven gates open, discharging 6244 cubic meters of water per second.

Rivers that receive water from dams must also be desilted because they are "wide and shallow," Ramos said.

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Magat dam. Twitter/Philippine Coast Guard

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said coordination among dam operators and disaster officials must be strengthened and releasing water during a typhoon must be avoided.

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When Ulysses hit last week, Luzon had been whipped by near-weekly storms, including Super Typhoon Rolly.

Local officials must also have the "foresight" to prepare even if their area will not be a direct hit, Ano told TeleRadyo.

"Sa giyera, sa military, ikaw yung general diyan, ikaw yung commander. Do not wait for the information to come to you. You really have to consider everything," he said.

Local chief executives from Metro Manila and Cagayan Valley have approached him to discuss dams' water release protocols, he said.

Dams in Luzon serve two purposes: irrigation and hydroelectric power. The governor of worst-hit Cagayan, Manuel Mamba, rued in an ANC interview how his province bears the brunt of water from Magat Dam when it doesn't benefit much in terms of irrigation.

Año said information dissemination must be strengthened as well. He said barangay captains, armed with loudspeakers, should do the rounds in their areas to warn residents of upcoming water release.

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