Improvements of Waterways in the Philippines


23 Mar 2015 15 Dec 2017

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For too long the waterways of the Philippines have been grossly contaminated through activities including domestic uses, industrial discharges, stormwater run-off, discharge of untreated sewage, recreational activities and the like. It has been recognised that for the health and safety of both the people of the Philippines and the protection of the environment for our future generations it is necessary that a strategy be established to commence the enormous task of returning our waterways to a quality that complies if not surpasses international standards. Water everywhere is a very valuable commodity and an essential element in sustaining life. For this reason we must act as a community to ensure that we return our waterways back to a standard we can be proud of. For this reason DENR will embark on a strategy which has one sole objective which is to


This discussion document provides a brief outline on items that should be considered if the objective of Cleaning up the waterways of the Philippines is to be realised.


In any strategy it is imperative that there are several options available to the community to enable them to successfully implement the strategy and thus achieve the objective. So in summarising some of the objectives DENR will consider the use of a waterways hierarchy as shown below. The waterways hierarchy simply describes the preference of options with avoidance being the ultimate option and disposal being the least favourable. This analogy is based on the international standards for cleaner production and waste minimisation which ultimately encourage that generating no waste is better than managing the waste that is generated.






In preparing these options consideration was given towards how these could be applied against a waterways hierarchy and the practicalities of implementing the options with respect to social, financial and environmental indicators.


3.1 Regulatory Framework

The Philippines already has established several regulations pertaining to the management of waterways and the required quality that needs to be achieved by Industry and the community to ensure the waterways are protected. However, consideration needs to be given towards strengthening this legislation by addressing the following:

  • Trade Waste Management (licensing and user pays system for industry discharging to the sewerage system)
  • Littering
  • Sewage plant discharge into inland and coastal waterways
  • Management of Sewage spills and unauthorised discharges
  • Algal bloom and nutrient management strategy
  • Heavy fines for offenders
  • Mandatory monitoring
  • Establishment of Key Performance Indicators and Government targets for wastewater recycling and reuse.

The above are only a few items that need to be considered in greater detail in order to ensure that the regulatory framework is in place to oblige the community to implement and continue to comply with the strategy.

3.2 Education, Training and Community Awareness

Technology alone cannot solve all problems. In order for this strategy to be successful it must have obtained ownership from the community. They must be aware of their obligations with respect to the waterways hierarchy and we must tell the Philippines community how it can contribute towards the clean-up of the waterways.

This will involve education programs both at a junior school level to engrain the importance of waterways and keeping them clean to ensure that the future generations avoid the mistake of returning to the old ways. The education programs need to also include local communities and industries so that they can see that there is a better way and that throwing that paper on the ground, or discharging untreated sewage in the river will make their life worse. We need to educate our community to demand a higher quality of life especially in relation to waterways and show them the benefits that a clean waterway can deliver. Things like better health, no rotten smell, increased tourism, better aesthetics, improved economic development and the like.

Training environmental practitioners and industry leaders that pollution is bad business and that any dumping or inappropriate discharge into a waterway will have ramifications not only for the local environmental officer but for the senior officers of the company. These ramifications can include increased fines, bad publicity and in extreme situations imprisonment.

Community awareness through targeted advertising campaigns could also get the message out. Adopting a community day once a year where the whole of Philippines gets together to clean up the waterways and the environment can achieve instant success and community pride that we all got together to improve our lives. Programs like these have been successfully implemented international such as “Clean up Australia”. There is no reason why there cannot be a clean-up Philippines.

3.3 Source Elimination Avoidance

The first point in the waterways hierarchy is avoidance. This means removing polluting dischargers from the waterway itself. This includes industrial dischargers that are putting the industrial waste directly into inland waterways. Where the avoidance of the discharge cannot be achieved then industry should be required to ensure that the quality, through recycling and treatment at the discharge, meets strict discharge criteria.

Avoiding the discharge of untreated sewage whether it is from ineffective wastewater treatment plants or direct discharge from the community. These inputs must be avoided or eliminated from being discharged into waterways as they can destroy a river system, generate unwanted odours, spread undesirable disease and the like.

3.4 Sewerage Management

One of the issues faced in the Philippines is the difficulty of laying collection and sewer pipe infrastructure to enable wastewater in the form of sewage to be collected to a central location for treatment and disposal. For this reason it is essential that a number of options become available that can suit the varying topography and provincial needs of the Philippines. This can be achieved in two ways:

  • Localised treatment plants that manage localised flows typically from 2.5KL/day to 40KL/day
  • Medium sized Membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology typically from 40KL/day to 500KL/day
  • Centralised wastewater systems based on MBR technology for areas where collection and laying pipe infrastructure is relatively easy. Examples of such plants are shown below:

Localised wastewater treatment plants CWT

Medium sized Plants

Large MBR treatment plants (45ML/Day)

Typical effluent quality

The quality of the treated water from these treatment plants will enable reuse of this water for flushing toilets, irrigation, and industrial reuse and other non-consumption activities.

3.5 Storm Water Run-off Management

There are several issues associated with the run-off and discharge of stormwater. These issues include collection of litter, oil and grease and other contaminants from roadways that then is discharged into the river system. Stormwater can also cause hydraulic overload and thus wash away sand and silt into the river. The silt and sand could contain heavy metals or other contaminants that will ultimately end up in the sediments of the river bed potentially creating undesirable conditions for aquatic species. Furthermore, the discharge of high levels of nitrogen collected from fertilisers and other similar processes will run-off into the river system and this contribute to the toxicity or provide adequate conditions for Algal Blooms to form.

To alleviate this problem source control of run-off is essential. This will be a combination of improved infrastructure, stormwater capture and treatment of stormwater before discharge into the river. This has to be managed in light of stormwater hydraulics especially as many parts of the Philippines are subject to severe flooding. So treatment of say the first flush of stormwater after which the water is discharged directly to the river system bypassing the treatment. This option will treat the most contaminated portion of the stormwater but not restrict flow substantially to become a further cause of flooding.

In looking at stormwater treatment there are four considerations, these are prevention, at source control, in-line structures and wetland/flood plains. Unfortunately not one of these systems in isolation can solve all the problems so wach system must be implemented in synergy.

Some mitigation options that can be implemented include:

  • Grate and entrance screens
  • Side entry pit traps
  • Baffled pits
  • Litter collection baskets
  • Boom diversion systems
  • Release nets
  • Trash racks
  • Gross pollutant trap
  • Circular screens
  • Floating Debris Traps

Some examples of these systems are shown below:

Cleaning is the most important issue in the utilisation of these systems and adequate maintenance programs need to form part of the strategy of installing any form of Stormwater treatment and management system.

3.6 Emergency Response and Spill Management

In any strategy that discusses the clean-up of waterways there must be an element to handle the unforseen spillage that do occur on a regular basis. The issue facing DENR is how it can become aware of these and how to implement appropriate mitigation options to protect human health and the environment from such events.

It is therefore imperative that a system will be established that ensures that spillages to the environment are reported, that there is a plan for containment and that this containment can then provide enough time to determine an appropriate response for the economic clean up of the spill. Too often in emergency response companies and regulators rush to throw all options towards the resolution of such events that the end result is often created a larger problem than the spill itself. A classic example of this is when dispersants are being used for the management of oil spills. The dispersant has really only one option, alter the surface tension of water so as to make the oil miscible with the water and thus render the oil spill out of mind out of site. In reality what dispersants do is prolong the inevitable that is contamination of sea beds and shore lines. In almost all situations the oil spill will require more clean up at the shoreline due to the fact that waterway conditions have changed and the oil is now no longer miscible thus creating a similar situation several kilometres away from the original spill location.

Thus any emergency response management system needs to deal with spill prevention, containment and removal not dilution. An example of alternative oil spill product that can be used instead of dispersants is Cleanmag. This product is briefly detailed below:

CleanMag® is an oil sorbing material in the form of magnetic granules. It is a porous material so the oil is absorbed upon contact with the CleanMag® materials at ratios of 1:6 (1 ‘CleanMag' 6 oil by weight). Due to a magnetic interaction all granules stay together forming a crust, which floats even after the oil has been absorbed and can be collected before the spill reaches the shoreline. In cases where the material does reach the coastline, the oil does not leak out due to strong cohesion onto the CleanMag®, thus eliminating the devastating environmental impacts normally associated with oil spills reaching sensitive coastlines.

The material and oil can be collected even days after CleanMag® has been dispersed over the spill (by aerial or naval means), by using a magnetic conveyor belt or electromagnetic cranes mounted onto the collecting vessel (i.e. ship or tug). Should the oil spill extend to a large surface area ‘CleanMag®' can be sprayed on the boarders of the spill, thus creating a barrier and preventing oil dispersion.This helps slow down the rate of expansion of the surface of the spill and therefore creates more time for the clean up operation to be conducted. This time is important as it can enable more innovative recovery options that are less costly to the operator and furthermore minimize environmental penalties associated with such spillages, as the impact on the environment and communities is minimized.

3.7 Sediment clean-up

Finally after the sources of pollution have been contained and managed consideration should then be given to dredging the sediments of the waterways with a view to removing the contaminants that have accumulated over several years. The final steps is necessary as the benefits of discharging clean high quality water that into the waterways system from the source control options mentioned earlier will not be realised. The reason for this is that the sediments will release contaminants and pollute the clean water. By cleaning these sediments it provides and opportunity for the life to return back to the waterway, free of pollution.



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