Desalination should be 'last option', would triple PH's water bill, warns analyst


Posted at Mar 25 2019 11:45 AM | Updated as of Mar 25 2019 12:03 PM

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MANILA - Desalination should be the last option for the Philippines to meet its demand for water, a Singapore-based analyst said Monday as officials continue to try to solve the supply shortage crippling parts of Metro Manila.

President Rodrigo Duterte last week told Singapore's ambassador to the Philippines Gerard Ho Wei Hong that the country needs a lot of advice amid the water crisis, noting the Southeast Asian city-state's expertise in desalination.

Desalination and "NEWater" technologies provide "some sort of water security for Singapore," which did not have big lakes or watersheds like the Philippines, said Eduardo Araral, director of the Institute of Water Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. The small nation previously had to rely on Malaysia for its supply.

But these are still too expensive, he said, warning that adopting these at the current price point would triple the consumers' water bills.

"From an economic standpoint, siguro last option muna 'yang desalination na 'yan kasi marami pang alternative. If you ask me, 'yang Laguna Lake should be the first option saka building Kaliwa Dam," he told ANC's Early Edition.

Researchers are experimenting measures that could cut the cost, including deionization and graphene filters, which in its prototype phase used only 1.5 kilowatt per cubic meter, said Araral.

"Once the technology is available, I think we should go back and re-examine this potential. We can use that new technology and tap Laguna Lake because that is a large source of freshwater," he said.

Ferdinand dela Cruz, president and CEO of water concessionaire Manila Water that had to put its customers on rotational supply, told a Senate panel last week that the cost of desalination "is not yet economic" because it "requires a lot of power and our power cost is very high."

Maynilad, which services the western half of the country's capital region, is using reverse osmosis to treat saltwater, but costs are high, said COO Randy Estrellado.

With the energy source in the Malampaya natural gas field running out in about a decade, Araral said "you don’t want to put a bet on a technology that is so energy-intensive."

"Pag nag-spike ang energy and you’re so dependent on this new technology, it will create a lot of headaches and problems for our people in the government. Marami pa namang alternatives sa Pilipinas," he said.