‘New water’: a safe, sustainable option?

MAYNILAD Water Services Inc. recently launched its “New Water” project which aims to recycle treated used water from its sewage treatment plants (STP) in Parañaque City for redistribution to the taps of water customers within its concession area.

Company officials said with its New Water project, Maynilad would be able to augment the limited supply coming from Angat Dam, initially by 10 million liters per day (MLD), and avoid the perennial problems encountered in extracting raw water from surface water like Laguna de Bay, such as the algal bloom and high water turbidity during typhoons and heavy downpour.

The New Water will be blended with treated water from Maynilad’s treatment plants in La Mesa and will be supplied to Barangays San Dionisio and San Isidro in Parañaque City, which are the areas nearest to the modular treatment plant (ModTP) location.

According to Maynilad, some 38,700 customers in these barangays will benefit from the additional supply, as it will improve water availability in the area sans added cost to its customers.

Maynilad officials led by its President and CEO Ramoncito Fernandez assured the public that Maynilad’s New Water passed the Philippine National Standard for Drinking Water, hence, safe to drink.

Potable, safe

ACCORDING to Maynilad, its New Water is the potable water supply that is produced after used water from households passes through rigorous and stringent treatment process to become drinkable.

“Maynilad is moving towards potable water reuse in a bid to boost available supplies given the growing demand for water, as well as the strain on existing raw water resources due to the impact of climate change,” Maynilad said in its Frequently Asked Questions posted in its website.

During the project’s launch on June 29, 2022, Fernandez was joined by guests from the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), the local government unit (LGU) of Parañaque, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the ceremonial drink-up of Maynilad’s New Water to prove that it is indeed “safe to drink.”

Socially acceptable

PER Maynilad, it has been conducting a series of social acceptability tests and public consultations involving residential and commercial customers, LGUs and government agencies, including the Department of Health, the DENR, the MWSS and the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) to ensure that the New Water will be acceptable to consumers.

Maynilad further said that based on its initial social acceptability test, residential and commercial customers of Maynilad have expressed willingness to use New Water after seeing the product water and understanding the idea behind it.

A first in PHL

WHILE Maynilad will be the first to do it in the Philippines, converting used water to potable water is already being done in other countries such as Namibia, South Africa, and some areas in the United States that are known to implement direct potable reuse.

Maynilad said other countries such as Belgium, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Australia, and some parts of the US adopt an “indirect potable reuse” through groundwater recharge and surface water augmentation.

Maynilad said it benchmarked with Namibia and Singapore before its move to tap treated used water for drinking.

According to Maynilad, Namibia, a pioneer in developing potable supply from reused water, has been recycling treated used water since 1968.  In fact, Windhoek City is currently getting 24 percent of its drinking water from this source.

Meanwhile, Singapore—an island city-state with little water supply—produces NEWater to meet water demand. NEWater now supplies around 40 percent of its drinkable and non-drinkable water, Maynilad pointed out.

New Water: Doable

ASKED to weigh in on Maynilad’s New Water initiative, Antonio Tompar, a Cebu-based businessman and a pioneer in water desalination or the process of converting salt water into freshwater, said Maynilad’s move to tap treated used water from its STPs to make it drinkable is doable, and, in fact, more economical than tapping water from rivers or lakes.

He said it would be a lot cheaper to treat water from its STPs than making potable water extracted from Laguna de Bay or Pasig River drinkable.

It comes with a cost

“THE cost of treating water goes up depending on the level of pollution,” says Tompar.  He said turbidity alone is a big problem.

Tompar, CEO of Mactan Rock Industries Inc., is known as “Cebu’s Water King.” His company, a pioneer in bulk water supply and water technology provider in the Philippines, has been providing various institutions with desalinated water for decades. Industry-wise, Mactan Rock has secured more than half of Cebu’s bulk water supply, and perhaps in the entire country, servicing industries with its lowest water rate ranging from P75 to P85 per cubic meter, as compared to the more than P100 per cubic meter offered by other companies.

He said producing freshwater that is drinkable or safe to drink is doable, thanks to modern technology.

‘All in the mind’

HOWEVER,  Tompar said persuading water consumers to drink used water from the STPs is a rather different story altogether.

“It’s psychological. It will be hard to convince people to drink used water. Even in Singapore, a lot of people buy mineral water,” he told the BusinessMirror.

As a technology provider, Tompar made a stunning declaration of its plan to make water from Pasig River, one of the country’s dirtiest rivers, drinkable—using reverse osmosis.

Tompar’s Mactan Rock has been providing safe, drinking water to various clients, including hotels and economic zones.

A welcome initiative

DR. Sevillo David Jr., executive director of the NWRB, said Maynilad’s New Water initiative is a welcome development.

“Any initiative to recycle water to use water again will be helpful,” says David.

David said water recycling, in fact, should be practiced even by households by maximizing water use before they finally dispose of it.

While treated used water is already being converted into drinkable water in other countries, it is best to make sure that the technology we have for such projects is equally reliable and safe.

“Dapat pa rin nating pag-aralan lalo at makakatulong naman talaga ito,” he said.

The official said water level at Angat Dam remains below the normal working level of 180 meters above sea level despite several days of rains. To ensure a sustainable water supply, however, he said the best option is to develop new water sources, like the Kaliwa Dam, and make people realize the importance of conserving freshwater.

Netizens’ reaction

MAYNILAD’S New Water, as expected, drew varied reactions. While many lauded the effort and thanked the company for its initiative, some remain skeptical, at the least.

Veteran journalist Alfredo Gomez Pedroche, responding to a casual survey via Facebook, said: “All the water we use, drink, bathe with, cook with, have been used through the ages. The water we drink used to be urine and sewage water. Water is naturally recycled and who knows, we have probably drunk what used to be the urine of our forefathers.”

“Perhaps I’d puke to drink water from purified septic tank water but what we don’t know don’t hurt. There’s now a modern technology being used for the purpose,” he added.

Communication expert Roland Alino Inciong said water recycling to augment potable water is real and they also call it “New Water.”

“Check Singapore. They are drinking purified sewage water. I was there when the Prime Minister tasted the first processed water. New Water ang tawag nila noon [is what they call it over there],” Inciong said.

In Maynilad’s official FB page, netizen Jay Nadz Genetiano Libardo said: “Congrats team Maynilad for such effort to produce more sources of potable water.”

Some netizens, however, remain skeptical, even attacking the company’s poor services, especially in Imus, Cavite, which has been experiencing frequent water service interruption.

Nadine Villanueva dared Maynilad officials to first try for themselves by drinking water provided by the company to residents of Imus.

“Try drinking your water here in Imus once the water supply resumes. It smells like sewer,” Villanueva lamented.

Netizen Paw San Mateo, for his part, said he may not appreciate New Water because they are always sleeping late at night to wait for water to flow from the taps. “Di namin maa-appreciate ’yan kasi mga puyat kami magipon ng tubig.”

Roi Cabalida from Imus also lamented that they have been experiencing water scarcity in Imus for seven years already.

Now, that’s another story.

Image credits: Maynilad, Pub/Singapore’s National Water Agency(www.pub.gov.sg)

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