Illegal miners intruding into Surigao’s watershed area, aggravates water scarcity

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/13 Sept) – Illegal miners have contributed to the water shortage being experienced by concessionaires in the city, according to a report prepared by the Surigao Metropolitan Water District (SMWD).

The report said that the illegal miners residing along the buffer zone of the 967-hectare Parang-Parang Watershed are tapping into at least three polyethylene pipes downstream of the watershed dam.

Jair E. Balberan, SMWD engineering assistant, prepared the report after a reconnaissance in the area on July 16. With Balberan in the site were forester Randy Tanguihan, Caraga State University faculty members Romell Seronay and Meljan Demetillo and SMWD consultant Torsten Bodendiek, a German national.

Balberan and his team are tasked with drawing a financial plan as a component of SMWD’s watershed management.

Benjamin R. Ensomo Jr., SMWD general manager, said the illegal tapping of water supply demonstrates the continuing intrusion of the watershed by illegal miners, as well as the harm that their presence contributes to the integrity of the city’s major water source.

All these factors, Ensomo said, have created a competition for water and land use, and would aggravate the water shortage being experienced by city residents.

Ensomo pointed out that the number of illegal miners in the area are growing, referring to the members and non-members of the Nagkahiusang Gagmay’ng Minero (Nagami) presently working at poorly constructed tunnels in and out of the watershed’s buffer zone area.

Nagami has over a thousand members, not including family members who also live in the area. Non-Nagami members are believed to be growing fast and their numbers remain unaccounted for.

Surigao City has experienced intermittent disruptions of water supply since May, and residents in elevated areas suffer most.

Junribel Bustillo, Nagami spokesperson, had earlier admitted tapping into MSWD’s water pipes but claimed that they had already heeded the water utility’s request to cut the illegal connections.

Water advocates in the city are demanding for a total mining ban near the watershed.

Jun Ramirez, a member of Save Parang-Parang group, said the watershed must be preserved and protected at all cost. He criticized local leaders for supposedly putting their political welfare than the preservation of the city’s water source.

The illegal miners are also blamed for the pollution of Surigao River, identified by SMWD as the city’s future source of potable water.

Surigao del Norte Gov. Sol F. Matugas has supported Nagami in its quest to be organized under a Minahan Ng Bayan, saying this approach recognizes the reality that the illegal miners and their families have to maintain their livelihood to survive.

Matugas believes the creation of a People’s Small Scale Mining Area will led to the containment of pollution generated from the current mining activities.

Meanwhile, Ensomo sees urgency in solving the mining problem at Parang-Parang.

“If the problem drags on, the problem would become unmanageable and thousands of Surigao residents will suffer from inadequate supply of water,” he said.

He also emphasized that SMWD’s water consumers are growing fast – at present averaging five applicants a day.

To at least meet the challenge, he said SMWD plans to create an impounding dam that has a capacity of at least 200,000 cubic meters.

Late last month, a forest fire inside the watershed devoured at least 14 hectares of forest. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)