Giving to the Dams

When The Engineer asked for volunteers some three months ago, I never showed interest.

Yet, whenever the call was repeated at church, my thoughts circled closer and closer to the idea of participating. So, when 78 church members assembled on that early Sunday morning, my father and I were racing to be one of them.

By 6AM, we left the grounds and headed north via Novaliches, Quezon City. I thought it was just the usual route anyone takes to get to the destination but it turns out that it isn’t. Sir Orson took us through the La Mesa Watershed Reservation. It was my first time there and, despite having a hot day, it felt cool there because of all the trees. I noticed that there were a lot of joggers and groups of kids with basketballs. But we weren’t stopping at the park.

We entered another gate and found ourselves at the La Mesa Dam and Reservoir. The Watershed and the Dam are adjacent to but are different from each other. The former, also known as La Mesa Watershed Ecopark, is a 33-hectare rainforest protected by Proclamation No. 1336, which was created in 2007 during former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration. The park is where visitors could picnic, swim, play basketball, and ride bikes. The latter is an earth dam built in 1929. It holds up to 50.5 cubic meters of water, covers 27 square kilometers, and gets an annual average rainfall of 2,000 millimeters. This is where the water is treated by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System before it goes to the houses in the metro.

Usually, visitors aren’t allowed beyond the park. But, because Sir Orson was an MWSS employee and the whole group was heading for a different dam, we were permitted inside the building and have a look at the treatment area.

The Treatment Plant: Where the Magic Happens
The Treatment Plant: Where the Magic Happens

Once sightseeing was over, we left the La Mesa Dam. We traveled about 24.97 km. (15.52 mi.) north for what seemed like 2 ½ hours. Afterwards, we finally arrived at our actual destination.

Ipo Dam was completed in January 1984. It can contain up to 7.5 million cubic meters of water and the whole area spans about 6,600 hectares. Ipo is an intermediary dam; water from the Angat Dam, which is found further up 7.5 km north, goes down to Ipo Dam, which then flows to the La Mesa Dam.

The area that cradles Ipo Dam is mostly mountainous. Countless towering trees serve as silent sentinels of the placid water. Unfortunately, their numbers decreased due to erosion caused climate change. That is why the MWSS has created a reforestation program called “Plant for Life”, which aims to have 50,000 saplings cover the denuded areas in the watershed in 2016.

After registration, briefing, and receiving water-filled bottles, the 78 volunteers from my church went down to the docks. As much as The Engineer would have wanted more, only those older than 16 years old could join. Our group was segregated into two teams: the red team would go to flat areas while the yellow team was sent to the steep areas. Senior citizens of the yellow team, like my father, were asked if they were sure of their choices.

Our boatmen were the local Dumagats; they took us to our assigned areas, which they guarded. They were also the people who dug the holes and placed the narra and cupang seedlings near the holes. Usually, the passengers pay for the ride to and from the assignments but our church paid for all the boats the whole group used.

With over an hour of planting, we went back to where our fleet was parked, took out lunches, and spread out to eat. I discovered that they hardly have any need for a refrigerator because the water that came from the mountain was surprisingly and refreshingly cool.

Also, another discovery I made: Ipo Dam is a historical site. The nightmares of WWII started to retreat. The country was being liberated from Japanese occupation. Under the orders of Major General Osamu Kawashima who was part of the forces of Lieutenant General Shizuo Yokoyama, Japanese soldiers dug spots along the dam and defended their position from there. Filipino soldiers and American allies, which included guerilla groups and infantry regiments, stood on the offensive; they feared that, if the Japanese became desperate, the enemies would resort to poisoning the water supply, thus killing numerous people. The 43rd Infantry Division of the US Army advanced on Ipo Dam on May 10, 1945 and bombarded the area with fire from their artilleries. Two days after, the allies secured one of the hills in the area. In May 17, a final assault happened and the Marking Guerillas, who waved an American flag at the top of the southern power plant, marked the successful capture of an intact Ipo Dam. The Japanese resistance ended two days later.

Ipo Dam marker
Ipo Dam marker

The Ipo Dam has seen much action. Even decades after the battle at its heart, it still needs warriors who would fight and defend its land and waters. Depending solely on machines to clean the water will ask for pressure and time. But, with more trees along the dam, treating the water supply will be significantly reduced and further soil erosion could be prevented.


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