DILG wants disaster officials to oversee dam discharge following Ulysses onslaught

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 15) — The Department of Interior and Local Government is looking at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council to oversee dam discharge protocols to better prepare residents of nearby localities for disasters.

This proposal comes after criticisms of an absence of a central authority that could have implemented a programmatic dam discharge system in areas that were severely flooded and recorded significant deaths and damage due to the heavy rainfall brought by Typhoon Ulysses last week.

"I think we will propose na in times of calamities at typhoon, dapat may nagko-control diyan kung sino, kailan bubuksan iyong dam, kasi dapat before bumagyo ready na tayo magbukas lalo na kung mayroong forecast kung gaano kalaki yung ulan na darating," Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in a situational briefing with President Rodrigo Duterte and other officials in Tuguegarao, Cagayan on Sunday.

[Translation: I think we will propose that in times of calamities and typhoons, there has to be an authority in charge of when dams must open their spillway gates, because before the typhoon hits, we should already be prepared to open especially if it was already forecast how much rainfall there will be.]

"I will propose po na pag-usapan...na ito pong NDRRMC ang magbibigay ng approval kung kailan magbubukas, ilang gate para po controlled natin," Año added.

[Translation: I will propose that we discuss it further and have the NDRRMC spearhead the approval of when and how many gates should be opened so that we can control it.]

Over the weekend, infrastructure-oriented think tank Infrawatch Philippines noted that the impact of Ulysses, which supposedly was only "a third" of the rainfall during Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, could have been mitigated with "forward planned multi-dam discharges under a single authority."

"Discharge protocols are left to the discretion of dam operators, such as NIA (National Irrigation Administration), Napocor (National Power Corporation), among others," Infrawatch PH lead convenor Terri Ridon said in a statement Saurday. "Without a central authority managing the proper and timely discharge of various dams, water is discharged in river systems already overburdened by heavy rainfall."

He added: "No less than the heads of NIA [National Irrigation Administration] and Napocor should be made accountable for this unacceptable criminal oversight."

Citing the daily dam reports of state weather bureau PAGASA, Ridon raised alarm that Ipo and Angat dams in Bulacan only opened their gates last Thursday, November 12, the very day that Ulysses pummeled Luzon. The Caliraya Dam in Laguna issued a notice of dam discharge to local governments at 2 a.m on the same day.

On Friday, the Magat Dam in Cagayan already had nine gates opened a day after the typhoon already made landfall in some areas of Luzon.

"Tell us again: How is this not criminal incompetence?" Ridon said.

Cagayan governor mulls suing Magat Dam

Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba said during the Laging Handa briefing that he is considering filing a complaint against Magat Dam for releasing water at the peak of the typhoon.

"We are thinking about it and we are reminding the dam to manage the watershed well because this is the cause of the sudden inflow of water," Mamba said.

In a statement, the NIA-Magat River Integrated Irrigation System maintained that it advised residents of Isabela and Cagayan about its water release from Magat Dam two days before Ulysses made landfall. It also added that continuous rains upstream of the dam contributed to high inflows, while rivers along Cagayan River had also reached their maximum capacity, causing river overflows in the province and adjacent areas.

"It is necessary to release water from the reservoir for the purposes of preventing the dam from reaching its critical level of 193 mean sea level that may compromise its structural integrity and may result to a catastrophe to nearby municipalities and more impact on a widespread flooding in Region II (Cagayan Valley), the NIA said.

While failing to comment on the supposed lack of coordination among authorities, Duterte said the move to discharge water from the dams was needed to prevent a much worse situation.

“You have to release it, otherwise we’ll have a catastrophe,” Duterte told reporters after another situational briefing with government officials in Camarines Sur.

“Every dam in this world pagka puno na 'yung tubig, ire-release talaga ‘yan, otherwise magkalat ‘yan ‘pag nasira (Every dam in this world, when the water capacity is already full, you really have to release it, otherwise it’ll cause bigger damage if there’s a dam failure). You'll have, as I said, a catastrophe," he added.

The death toll due to Typhoon Ulysses has risen to 69 as of Sunday afternoon, including ten from the province of Cagayan.

The province has shot to the top trending topics on social media in the past few days as netizens cried for help for residents trapped in their flooded homes. It has since been placed under a state of calamity.