Categories: OpinionPunchline


City should buy its dredging machine again

By Ermin Garcia Jr.


THE severe and extended days of flooding in Dagupan City prompted a number of netizens in the city to pillory the Fernandez administration as if it was the city government that caused their misery all these days.

Their knee jerk reaction was understandably an expression of their helplessness but nonetheless still unfair. Extended flooding caused by torrential rains and high tide never prepared the city nor any other community for it. In fact, not even PAGASA predicted the extended torrential rains and the two typhoons and series of high tide occurrences that exacerbated the situation for Dagupeños.

In fairness to the Fernandez administration, based on lessons learned from past flooding in the city, many city streets were immediately elevated and new drainage pipes were installed. The DPWH’s three dredging machines were harnessed to dredge the heavily silted Pantal River. What else could have anyone done under the circumstances unless the city simulated the flooding it experienced today some two years back! Knowing Mayor Belen Fernandez, she would have done all, if she could, to end the totally unexpected crisis.

Without a doubt, the last 15 days brought forth new sobering experiences from which the city government can again draw lessons to mitigate the situation in the future.

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OBSERVATIONS. Now the business at hand. From where I sit and in my layman’s understanding of principle of water movements and common sense in engineering, here are some observations from which perhaps lessons and solutions can be studied and applied.

  1. The floodwater rushing through Pantal River is completely murky. It tells us the river is bloated with excess water from upstream, from the mountain and areas where the floodwater passed. How to minimize the rush of mud and murky floodwater from those areas need to be studied closely. No immediate solution seen there.
  1. The trapped floodwaters in many city streets are as clear as the water from our household faucets! One can see one’s feet while wading through the flood. It means these are water from the torrential rains, not from upstream. Observation: The clear floodwater just kept rising at the height of the rains and it took days for it to recede, meaning the rainwater was trapped! It could only mean many waterways in the city have since been blocked preventing easy exit to the river. I strongly suspect that many private landowners and fishpond owners have unwittingly aggravated the situation by enclosing parts of the waterway for their purpose. The blocked waterways must be traced and found, and if these are located in private property, owners must be notified and be made to clear the obstacles or face a legal complaint. This can be done immediately.
  1. The backflow of rainwater at the Pantal River could only mean that the riverbed is already extremely shallow because it is heavily silted. It means the projected level of dredging based on frequency of dredging in the past did not work. Future dredging must cover wider and deeper levels and daily. I say daily because as one dredges the silt, more silt can be expected to take ground from upstream, following the principle of water that it seeks its own level. The city government can act on this immediately.
  1. The extremely slow exit of floodwater to the sea tells us that the river’s mouth is already partially blocked, being heavily silted or a sandbars have formed over the years. That needs priority attention. Again, action can be immediate with existing equipment of the city government.
  1. Our friend Art Valenzuela who had some studies in urban planning did some analysis based on available information from Google map, and posted these on his FB account. He made strong, valid points for planners to ponder.

What is actionable by city government is dredging. But what it cannot continue to do is to depend on DPWH to do the dirty work. DPWH has its own priorities to work on, and Dagupan will only be one of them. Hence, DPWH cannot be expected to deliver its full resources to help the city. The failure or the inability of DPWH to immediately repair its dredging machine assigned to the city reportedly in the last four months or more should be enough to tell the city officials that the arrangement will no longer work for Dagupan, not with what happened in the last two weeks.

Indeed, it is time for the city government to acquire again its own dredging machine in addition to whatever DPWH can share throughout.

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MAKING THE DIFFERENCE. For a while I thought then City Mayor Benjie Lim had a full appreciation of the need for the city to acquire a dredging machine. He was well-advised then to know that the city stands to benefit greatly by owning and operating its own dredging machine.

I was wrong. As facts will bear me out today, it was merely an opportunity for another deal. The city bought an overpriced dredging machine unfit for the job to be done. Hence, it didn’t take long for that machine to end up at a junk shop. The city lost a benefit at a costly price.

This is where Mayor Belen can make and show the difference between her governance and BSL’s. The city can acquire the right dredging machine for the right price and accomplish the benefit for the city.

I hope Mayor Belen will be up to the challenge.

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LESSONS TO BE LEARNED. The provincial government did the right thing acquiring its own dredging machine in anticipation of its estimation of the amount of dredging that the river system in the province needs.

In my own brief consultation with the Cayetanos (as official stewards for Taguig City) on Dagupan’s recent experience, DFA Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano was emphatic when he suggested that the city government should also invest on its own dredging machine like Taguig did. He said they managed to control the perennial flooding in Taguig City caused by constant high tide and overflow from the Laguna de Bay by dredging it and other river tributaries in the city.

There is no doubt a heavy duty type of dredging machine is pricey. To think of acquiring it today will upset the operating budget of the city. So, a loan will do the trick but this will also likely affect plans to construct the planned new city hall.

Now comes the question: Will the need to boost confidence among potential investors to do business in Dagupan being flood-free, no longer flood-prone, as a priority be enough to justify the acquisition of a dredging machine at any cost?

I should hope so. The worst that can happen to the city is to see an exodus of business establishments from the commercial districts because the city is flood-prone with each occurrence of high tide or the onset of torrential rains.

Experiences of urban cities that managed to mitigate flooding in their areas by dredging should be taken as quick lessons. The longer the city government delays this, the longer it risks seeing the barangays suffer the same or worse in the near future.

In sum, a serious, deliberate move to dredge is the only short term solution that the city can adopt to mitigate any occurrence of torrential rain or Habagat. Other solutions needing national government intervention can only be useful for the medium and long term.

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