ILOILO City – The Iloilo River is among the trademarks of this capital city. It is an estuary – an arm of the sea – which now became an attraction with kilometer-long esplanades built on its banks.
Locals and non-locals enjoy a walk or a jog at the river park that is the Iloilo River Esplanade. Its landscape primarily depends on the natural beauty of the river, which traverses through the City of Love’s six districts – Lapuz, La Paz, Mandurriao, Molo, Arevalo, and City Proper.
Being one of the city’s gems, the river is praised for its exquisiteness. But little ugly creatures hide within its waters – hundreds of thousands of coliform bacteria.
Based on the latest laboratory test results of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Region 6’s Ambient Water Monitoring Unit, Iloilo River’s coliform level is way far above the standard, which is 200 MPN (most probable number) per 100 milliliter (mL).
Coliform bacteria are microorganisms that usually occur in the intestinal tract of animals including humans. They are the most widely accepted indicators of water quality. A high coliform count suggests sewage pollution. (Britannica.com)
EMB’s five-year physico-chemical and bacteriological study showed that Iloilo River’s coliform level had been consistently high since 2013.
The EMB recorded 380,890 MPN/100 mL in 2013; 291,240 MPN/100 mL in 2014; 119,031 MPN/100 mL in 2015; 94,524 MPN/100 mL in 2016; and 352,917 MPN/100 mL in 2017.
Atty. Ramar Niel Pascua, chief of EMB Region 6’s Legal Division, said no water samples from the river were collected this year as the scheduled collection was cancelled due to the need of manpower in the water quality analysis and monitoring in Boracay.
EMB Region 6’s technical support specialist Catherine Murcia-Moleta said the high coliform count is due to the residential houses along the Iloilo River having no standard septic tanks.
Some residents resort to open defecation and yet some dump their waste to the river.
Engineer Noel Hechanova, chief of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office, also said the main culprit in Iloilo River’s pollution is the waste from septic tanks.
The EMB Region 6 has recommended strengthening the information education campaign on solid waste management in the river.
It also urged the city government to conduct mitigating measures to reduce the coliform concentration in the river through the proper installation of septic tank in every household, provision of a public communal toilet for those who do not have access to sanitary toilet, and strictly imposing the zero open defecation of humans and domesticated animals along the riverbank and within the river.
The EMB also said industries and commercial establishments must comply with the DENR-AO 2016-08 General Effluent Standards that covers the discharge of waste to bodies of water.
The city government leads cleanup drives for the Iloilo River. But Hehanova said there must be a regular cleanup of septic tanks along the river.
An ordinance authored by Councilor R Leone Gerochi passed in August 2017 established the Septage Management Program in the city.
The ordinance requires all households, businesses and institutions to have their standard septic tanks. They are also required to clean these waste facilities every three to five years.
The septage management system is mandated by Republic Act 9275, or the Clean Water Act of 2004.
“Dako ini nga ulobrahon. There has to be a city septic management authority. It has to be created. May council ina dapat then may mga guidelines na sia,” Hechanova told Panay News, adding that the body has yet to be created until now.
Under the ordinance, waste materials from septic tanks must be removed and transferred by a duly-accredited hauler/pumper to a treatment facility following the Department of Health guidelines and other government regulations on dislodging and transport of sludge, except those that are operating under the supervision of the Metro Iloilo Water District.
No septage hauler/pumper shall unload or dispose untreated septage in any other place except through accredited septage treatment facilities including, but not limited to bodies of water, agricultural fields and the drainage system within the city, the ordinance stated.
Hechanova said they are conducting a survey on the septic tank situation in the city, among others, before implementing the ordinance.
He added that City Health Office records showed that around 80 to 85 percent of the residential houses in the city have septic tanks.
The rest have informal comfort rooms, using public toilets or dumping their waste directly to the river.
“Our ultimate goal is to reduce the pollution load at the Iloilo River because it is suffering right now,” said Hechanova./PN