May 16, 2019
WHILE the rehabilitation of Manila Bay is well under way, I believe revitalization efforts must encompass other bodies of water, such as Laguna Lake, which are sources of environmental pollution that eventually flows into Manila Bay. Laguna Lake, otherwise known as Laguna de Bay, is the largest inland body of water in the Philippines and the third largest lake in Southeast Asia with a lake surface area of 90,000 hectares and coastline length of 220 kilometers. The area is so vast that Singapore can fit in the lake. The Laguna de Bay region comprises Metro Manila, Laguna, Rizal, Cavite, Batangas and Quezon. According to National Statistics Office data for 2015, Laguna de Bay region’s population has already reached 16.2 million — 4.8 million lakeshore residents and 11.4 non-lakeshore residents.
Laguna Lake is abundant with natural resources, and lakeside residents have greatly benefited from its rich biodiversity by skillfully using it as a source of their livelihood. Fishing is the foremost form of livelihood in the lake. According to Laguna Lake Development Authority’s (LLDA) 2012 data, fisheries production yielded 150,957 metric tons of fish. Aside from 31 species of fish, other kinds of flora and fauna that are in the lake include crustaceans, mollusks, birds, water hyacinth and water lettuce, among others. Apart from sustaining and enabling communities to earn a living from its natural wealth, the lake also supplies approximately 200 million liters of water to parts of Metro Manila.
With the low water supply in our dams, we are in constant search for alternative sources of potable water. Last March, parts of Metro Manila were unprepared for an unprecedented water supply crisis that cut off the supply of approximately 52,000 households. Since the early 2000s, I have been proposing to utilize the capacity of Laguna Lake to hold 3.2 billion cubic meters of water. By intensifying efforts to clean and dredge the lake, we can improve its water quality and water-holding capacity. As a result, we can ensure the sustainability of Laguna Lake as a vital resource that will always meet the needs of the Manila Bay Metropolitan Region and Calabarzon. One of the solutions to our water crisis is right in the middle of Metro Manila, and we are missing the chance to utilize it responsibly. Unfortunately, people and industries have aggravated the crisis by treating the lake as a backdoor garbage bin where they casually dump their wastes. Today, Laguna Lake is overwhelmed by domestic, industrial and agricultural pollution, which causes eutrophication, or the presence of excessive waste nutrients, algal bloom and fish diseases. If we do not address the lake’s critical condition now, we will be robbing current and future generations of the chance to enjoy its beauty and natural wealth.
If developed appropriately, Laguna Lake can also alleviate traffic congestion, mitigate flood problems, strengthen tourism and expand waterfront development. In the 1970s, the government, through an inter-agency task force, assessed flood mitigation and disaster risk measures. After comprehensive evaluation, they proposed the simultaneous construction of the Manggahan Floodway and the Parañaque Spillway. As of today, only the Manggahan Floodway exists, and the lake’s single outlet to Manila Bay is the Napindan Pasig River Channel, which has a capacity of only 600 cubic meters/second. During Typhoon Ondoy, approximately 4,000 cubic meters/second flowed into Laguna Lake from the mountains of Antipolo and Rizal. Because the Napindan Pasig River Channel could only drain 15 percent of the torrential downpour to Manila Bay, 80,000 hectares of urban land experienced catastrophic floods. I strongly recommend the construction of the Parañaque Spillway, which will serve as another channel that can flush out accumulating floodwaters in the lake into Manila Bay to prevent flooding in lakeshore towns and nearby areas. Without the Parañaque Spillway, I have always described Laguna Lake as a bathtub without a drain and with 21 faucets running.
With our country’s worsening traffic congestion and faulty public transportation, we have to implement alternative forms of transportation. As an architect and urban planner, I highly recommend optimizing Laguna Lake’s strategic position and developing an efficient and environment-friendly public transport system that will connect various growth areas around Laguna Lake such as Binangonan, Angono, and Taytay in Rizal and Santa Rosa and San Pedro in Laguna to the rest of Metro Manila. The eastern section of the lake is projected to experience population and economic growth. Therefore, additional stations in Cabuyao, Calamba, Los Baños and Tanay, among others, are necessary to address expected accessibility needs. The proposed station will have linear and perpendicular linkages. Linear connections are ferry routes that will stop at consecutive stations whereas perpendicular connections will cross to other stations while bypassing others. I also recommend integrating the lake’s transport system with the current Pasig River Transportation System and Manila Bay Water Transport System for a wider and more efficient service. Enhancing the water transportation system within the lake must be supported by a circumferential road network and a railway around the lake, which will give Laguna Lake inter-land and inter-water transport linkages. The circumferential road can help establish gateways to other provinces that will form the Laguna Lake Tourism Circuit. The Circuit will feature three tourism zones: 1) the Los Baños-Makiling Zone, 2) the Pagsanjan Zone, and 3) the Angono-Talim Zone. Each zone can boost local tourism by showcasing natural and other tourist attractions that are unique to each area.
Equally important is Laguna Lake’s waterfront development. Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group envision the lakefront to have walkable and bikeable linear parks and promenades that can be enjoyed by all, most especially by the lakeshore communities. Developing vibrant public spaces will encourage communities to be better guardians of the lake. I have always believed that the objective of waterfront development is to engender an appreciation of the water that sustains us. Let us work together to restore Laguna Lake’s former grandeur, so it can, in turn, save and sustain our communities and future generations.
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