P1-B flood warning system wasted due to neglect

by Aries Rufo, abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak

Posted at Oct 07 2009 06:19 PM | Updated as of Oct 23 2009 09:15 PM

Japanese project could have minimized 'Ondoy' casualties

Effective Flood Control Operation System or EFCOS

MANILA - Expensive flood warning equipment and devices have been rendered idle and put to waste because of neglect following the transfer of flood control from the public works department to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

The idle equipment could have mitigated the deluge brought about by tropical storm Ondoy in Metro Manila.

Abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak learned that a flood warning system from Japan amounting to P1.1 billion has been rendered useless because of neglect, indifference or simply lack of foresight.

Sources involved in the initial implementation of the project squarely faulted MMDA chair Bayani Fernando for the inoperable early warning facilities that could have minimized the flooding and deaths in the Pasig-Marikina-Laguna Lake complex.

Effective Flood Control Operation System or EFCOS

These sources, who agreed to talk on condition that they will not be identified, said Fernando simply let the equipment suffer wear and tear, without the required maintenance “because he thought the cost outweighs the benefit,” sources said.

Sought for comment, Fernando refused to talk about the now useless flood warning system, saying he was too busy in garbage cleanup. “Let us not talk about it yet,” he said.

Flood warning

The flood warning system in Metro Manila was procured through the Effective Flood Control Operation System or EFCOS, a brainchild of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The project aimed to achieve effective flood control operations for the Pasig-Marikina-Laguna Lake complex through two major components of the Metro Manila Flood Control Master Plan: the Manggahan Floodway and the Napindan Hydraulics Control structure.

Effective Flood Control Operation System or EFCOS

It involved the construction of an office that will serve as central network for the rainfall gauges and water level stations, plus a master control and multiplex communications network, relay towers and warning stations.

The EFCOS involved two phases. The first one, completed in 1992, was financed through a Japanese loan amounting to P600 million.

Two rainfall gauges in Boso-Boso in Antipolo and Mt. Oro in Montalban, including 9 water stations, were initially set up, with the master control station in the Rosario Weir (a weir is a small dam built in a river to back up or divert water).

Data from the water gauges and water level stations are transmitted through a telemetry system to the Rosario Master Control Station.

Advance information

From the data, authorities have advance information on any overflowing of riverbanks along the stretch of the Pasig river, thus alerting them for potential flooding.

The system also alerts authorities on how to regulate the water level in the Rosario Weir, whether to divert the waters into the Laguna Lake for temporary storage or into the Manggahan floodway. The Manggahan floodway was designed to mitigate flooding from the lower Marikina river and Pasig river.

Effective Flood Control Operation System or EFCOS

The second phase, completed in 2001, was a grant from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, to the tune of P500 million. 

This part of the project involved the installation of additional rainfall gauges in Mt. Campana in Antipolo, Rizal; Aries and Nangka, both in San Mateo, Rizal; Science Garden in Quezon City; and, in Napindan, Pasig City. Additional water-level stations were also set up and telecom equipment systems were distributed to the different local government units in Metro Manila for better coordination.

Nine warning posts were also installed along the Manggahan floodway, which were supposed to be operated by remote control to forewarn those living near the Pasig river for any potential flooding.

Neglected by MMDA

DPWH sources, who declined to be identified for lack of official permission, said that in 2002, the EFCOS project was turned over to the MMDA under Fernando based on a 2-page Memorandum of Agreement.

One source said Fernando himself lobbied with the President for the transfer of the EFCOS project under his control. The entire staff of EFCOS was also moved to the MMDA.

Sometime in 2006, the EFCOS project was no longer gathering or relaying data, and in May 2008, operation was suspended by the MMDA reportedly due to budgetary constraints. “We were informed that Fernando withheld the funds for the EFCOS because the cost of maintaining does not compensate for its supposed function,” one source said.

Worse, all the flood warning equipment, which were operational before, are no longer functioning, the sources said.

Expensive maintenance?

MMDA flood control director 3 Engr. Baltazar Melgar said, however, that some rainfall gauges and water level stations are still operational, such as those installed in Montalban, Boso-Boso, and Aries.

He admitted that some of the equipment have not been rehabilitated due to “prohibitive costs of repair.”

Repair of one water-level station, for example, can cost P500,000 as the repair parts would come from Japan. He said repairing the equipment would not have been practical.

Melgar said the EFCOS equipment from Japan are already “outmoded,” and downplayed the project’s supposed benefits.

“Besides, we only get little information that could be useful from the EFCOS devices,” he said.

But a hydrologist engineer from the DPWH said the data from the rainfall gauges and water level stations are essential in bridge designs and flood control.

It also provides the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) information for its flood advisories.

Dr. Susan Espinueva, officer-in-charge of Pagasa’s hydro-meteorology division, said inputs from the water-level stations and rainfall gauges sent from the Rosario central office to the weather bureau, “serve as basis in issuing flood advisories and thus help in disaster mitigation.”

She confirmed that Pagasa has not been receiving data from the EFCOS project “for several years now.” – Aries Rufo, abs-cbnNEWS.com/ Newsbreak