The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has set a goal to make the coastal areas of Bacuit Bay, previously flagged for coliform pollution, as suitable anew for swimming and other recreational activities.
The six-month rehabilitation of El Nido is targeting to bring back in May this year the safe water quality in some portions of Bacuit Bay as a “water quality management area.”
A press statement released Saturday by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the MIMAROPA region, said that along with the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) and the El Nido local government unit (LGU), the target is to gain back the Class SB water quality in the bay.
Under DENR’s Water Usage and Classification, Class SB refers to coastal and marine waters being suitable for Recreational Water Class 1 or areas that can be frequented by the public for bathing, swimming, and skin diving.
The environment department said they are aiming to achieve this by May by establishing Bacuit Bay as a Water Quality Management Area (WQMA) under the provisions of Republic Act 9275 or the Clean Water Act of 2004.
WQMA is an “integrated water quality management system to protect and save bodies of water through collaborative efforts of the government and various stakeholders.”
In the statement, DENR Assistant Secretary for Field Operations-Southern Luzon Reynulfo Juan said “water quality management is one of the priorities of DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu, and the establishment of the Bacuit Bay WQMA adheres to the major thrusts of his administration.”
“We look forward to having a sustained and collective action towards saving Bacuit Bay and the rest of our natural resources here in El Nido,” Juan was quoted to have said on January 29 during the 1st Environmental Forum for the proposed WQMA in El Nido.
The forum was organized by the EMB-MIMAROPA Region to orient stakeholders on the stages of establishing a water quality management area.
Its holding is important in the creation of a board that would craft and implement the 10-year action plan to address water quality issues in El Nido.
The members of the board shall be composed of representatives of pertinent national government agencies, local government units, water utility, and business sectors.
“We can say that this is progress made in line with El Nido’s six month rehabilitation period, which would end in May. Masaya ako na nandito tayo para makibahagi sa paglilinis ng Bacuit Bay. Tayo ang kalikasan dito sa El Nido (I am happy that we are here to be part of the Bacuit Bay clean-up. We are the environment here in El Nido),” Mayor Nieves Rosento said during her opening message in the forum.
Around 200 participants—mostly commercial establishment owners and business operators, as well as representatives of pertinent government agencies, attended the forum to save Bacuit Bay.
The press statement further quoted DENR-MIMAROPA regional executive director Henry Adornado in saying the attendees who showed up only proves that they are ready to take part in the protection and conservation of their environment.
“The number of attendees shows that we are ready to take part in the protection and conservation of our environment. I hope this forum would serve as our guide in performing our respective roles in protecting Bacuit Bay and preventing it from turning into another Boracay,” Adornado stated.
Similar to Boracay, the DENR statement said Bacuit Bay also receives numerous tourists from all over the world annually because of its majestic beaches and island getaways surrounded by crystalline waters.
Unfortunately, the inflow of tourists and human activities contributed to the degradation of the environment, specifically the water quality in Bacuit Bay, it said.
Business establishments and household discharges which are untreated wastewaters go directly into the bay resulting in high levels of total and fecal coliform.
But to date, it stated that Task Force El Nido has served notices to remove structures within easement zones, and notices of violation had also been issued to those that fail to comply with environmental regulations, especially concerning the discharge of untreated wastewater.
On November 28, 2018, at the height of rehabilitating tourist destinations in the country following the successful reopening of Boracay, Secretaries Roy Cimatu (DENR), Bernadette Romulo-Puyat (DOT) and Eduardo Año visited El Nido for an interagency meeting and site inspection.
Based on the evaluation of the agency heads, El Nido was spared from being closed down but was given six months to address problematic areas, such as the water quality in Bacuit Bay.
Cimatu gave specific instructions to restore the bay and even ordered the banning of swimming in areas found to have high coliform levels.
“We are mindful of the instructions of Secretary Cimatu and we recognize the urgency to establish WQMA in Bacuit Bay, which we expect to take place in November 2019,” the statement quoted further EMB-MIMAROPA regional director Michael Drake Matias.
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The statement noted that while the figures went down towards the end of 2018, some areas still fail to meet the water quality guidelines of the 100 most probable number (MPN)/100ml for Class SB waters based on Department Administrative Order 2016-08.
Based on the water testing conducted on December 28, 2018, the coliform levels were recorded as follows: Brgy. Masagana-110 MPN/100ml; Brgy. Maligaya 130 MPN/100ml; and Brgy. Buena Suerte 130 MPN/100ml.
The same water sampling also revealed swollen coliform levels from four outfalls that drain into the bay: Cabugao-79,000 MPN/100ml; Masagana-13,000 MPN/100ml, El Nido Estero-11,000MPN/100ml and Corong-Corong-17,000 MPN/100ml.
As such, topics discussed during the environmental forum not only included the phases and boundaries of the proposed Bacuit Bay WQMA.
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Wastewater treatment technologies, possible financing institutions that would help commercial establishments improve their facilities, and application process in securing DENR permits and other requirements (discharge permit, permit to operate, hazardous generator’s ID, and designation of a pollution control officer), were also tackled to inform stakeholders of their role in preventing further degradation of water quality in Bacuit Bay.
The statement added the DENR is now working with the LGU to put up a one-stop-shop to assist concerned stakeholders in complying with the above-mentioned requirements.
Following the instructions of Sec. Cimatu to dedicate a large portion of the DENR presence in Palawan to focus on the efforts of Task Force El Nido, the agency is also working on building an additional office and a bacteriological laboratory where the EMB can immediately perform necessary water tests without having to fly back to Manila every now and then.
“There is still so much to be done, but we are banking on the same unified efforts, we manifested in the early undertakings of Task Force El Nido. We are confident that as we meet our ultimatum in May 2019, we can present to the public an improved water quality in Bacuit Bay that is safe and fit for bathing and swimming,” Adornado said.