The Origins of Cagayan de Oro’s Water Supply
Last November 17, 2016, Mayor Oscar S. Moreno led the ground breaking for the PhP 4.9-million Indigenous People Cultural and Community Water System (Phase II) at Sitio Malasag, Barangay Cugman.
The water system project is a joint endeavor of the city government, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Cagayan de Oro Water District (COWD) through the Bottom Up Budgeting (BUB) Program. The COWD put up P2.9 million for the project, with the DSWD and city government sharing P1.4 million and P600,000, respectively.
Datu Masikal Jude Jabiniar thanked the project partners, particularly Atty. Gabriel Alqueno for donating the land for the installation of the water system.
“It is ironic that many people had forgotten that the Malasag Spring provided Cagayan de Oro its first ever running water but for many years Malasag was itself without a water system,” Datu Masikal said in the vernacular. “We are happy that finally our place in history is recognized and the city government made things happen to finally give our residents their own water system.”
In the olden days of Cagayan de Misamis, the townsfolk of the capital town of the Segundo Distrito de Misamis relied on the Cagayan River as its main source of water.
According to former city mayor Reuben Canoy, “Then, dirty water for kitchen use was drawn beside the river bank and sold for P1 per kerosene can and clean water for drinking, taken by enterprising boatmen from the middle of the river, sold for P2 per kerosene can. After the cholera epidemic, US Army doctors ordered the public to drink only boiled water.”
“To prevent future outbreaks of water-borne diseases, the local government built in 1922 what was to become the town’s first water system, source of which came from a spring in the Malasag Hills and was distributed from the concrete water tower which today houses the City Museum.”
“After World War II, the Cagayan Waterworks was taken over by the National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA). It was virtually a two-man operation. In 1954, then Mayor Justiniano Borja had a well dug at the end of Pabayo Street, a reservoir built on the Bontula Hill in Macasandig and a pump installed at the Mabulay Subdivision where the COWD Administration building now stands. Even with these efforts, it was still difficult to cope with the city’s rapid expansion.”
Recalls long-time resident Amadeo “Tatoy” V. Neri, Jr., “When our old house was built in 1948 along the corner of Apolinar Velez and Hayes Sts. it already had water piped in. The source was the old water tower and water was supplied by the city waterworks.”
“In the 50’s if you were living in Lapasan, many relied on rainwater for drinking, via water tanks that collected during rains. Many areas had artesian wells that were opened to the public for their common use,” he added.
Even during the 1960s, with water already piped directly to houses in the old poblacion, potable water remained scarce and residents still went to the Cagayan River for most of their water needs.
“I can remember NAWASA pa to sa among time early mid 60s murag grade 4 ko. Naa na gripo sa among balay sa bata pa mi but hinay kaayo tubig,” said Lealyn Abellanosa-Ramos whose family lived along Tiano Brothers Street. “Sa gabii ra mo tubod sa among taas. Sa silong banyo, CR, labhanan sag-ob tubig daan kay dili continuous ang tubig. Sa ka kulang tubod ang pag-laba didto sa Cagayan River, kanag ilalom sa tulay duol city hall.”
( I remember it was NAWASA during our time in the early to mid 60s, I guess I was in Grade 4. We had running water from a faucet in our residence but the flow of water was very slow. It was only at night when water pressure rose that water could be had in the second floor. We stocked water in the first floor where we had our bathroom, toilet, laundry area because the flow of water was intermittent. If the water was insufficient for our washing, we had our laundry done at the Cagayan River in that area below the Ysalina (then known as Carmen) Bridge.”
During those halcyon days, piped-in water from NAWASA cost a flat rate of PhP 40.00 a month, recalls Jocelyn Velez, whose family resides along present day J. Gaerlan Street.
“One time I noticed the bill had reached PhP 100! I investigated and found out our helpers often left the water hose open overnight so they didn’t have to water during the hot days! I warned them that if the next water bill goes over PhP 40.00 I would take the difference from their wages! Needless to say, it never happened again.”
Along Marcelo H. Del Pilar Street about a kilometer from the city poblacion, the kids of Severino and Ruth Ramos were fortunate to have an atabay (deep well) where they could draw clean water for their laundry, watering the plants and general use. Drinking water was drawn from a common public faucet along nearby Magsaysay Street.
“Ang tayam-tayam nga tubig sa Calamian (Mabulay) gave way to deep wells in several areas,” recalls former city mayor Constantino “Tinnex” G. Jaraula. “Ang Malasag source na monopolize sa Sta. Cecila and Capistrano Complex, and ang water tank sa Gaston remained the main source of the fire trucks until several fire hydrants were erected in several areas.”
According to Jaraula, the Calamian District deep well was within the properties of the Mabulay family or were surrounded by their lands. The area used to be known as Calamian District and later renamed “Mabulay Subdivision.”
When Atty. Reuben Canoy became City Mayor in 1971, he created the Water Development Commission and soon after, President Ferdinand Marcos created the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) which was charged with organizing water systems throughout the country.
On August 1, 1973, Mayor Canoy converted the Water Development Commission into the Cagayan de Oro City Water District (COWD) the first ever water district in the country.
On January 4, 1974 COWD was issued Conditional Certificate Conformance (CCC) No. 001 by the LWUA.
COWD was born as a self-reliant, quasi-public entity with the implementation of the Provincial Water utilities Act of 1973 or PD 198, which created the water districts nationwide. Under the strong leadership of its first and brilliant general manager, Engr. Ernesto B. San Juan, COWD, despite its independence, was able to transform itself from scratch to an organization clothed in efficiency, competence, credibility and success.
COWD started with only 3,500 service connections when it took over the management of the defunct NAWASA or Water Development Commission in 1973. This was expected from an average water production of only 12,200 cubic meters per day distributed to consumers through transmission lines only 39 kilometers long.
In 41 years COWD has grown around 24 times more in service connections, 10 times more in water production and as much 12 times more in pipeline length. The safe potable water COWD distributes to the its concessionaires is periodically tested by a laboratory in Bgy Macasandig and drawn from twenty-eight (28) wells distributed in six (6) well fields at Barangays Macasandig, Balulang, Calaanan, Bugo, Tablon and Agusan. There spring source from Malasag which originally served the city’s first water system at the old water tower is still in operation. Production major facilities include three (3) major Booster Pumping Stations and eight (8) reservoirs.
As of November 2016 , COWD had 91,124 service connections in its service area cover the city and the adjacent municipality of Opol, Misamis Oriental.
COWD, which became a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) in March 1992, was highly recognized for its remarkable success. In 1993, former mayor, Pablo P. Magtajas, has acknowledged it as being instrumental in fueling the city’s growth by leaps and bounds. He likewise commended COWD for its efficiency, competence , responsiveness to the needs of the people and sensitivity to public opinion, referring to the affordable rates (which have been multiplied only 11 times from P20 in 1973 to P218.40 for the first 10 cubic meters per month as of 2016, compared to other water districts around the country.
COWD also reaped laurels in the national scene as the Most Outstanding Water District in the Philippines in 1986,1987 and 1999 before being elevated to the LWUA-WD Hall of Fame on January 28, 2000.
Not the least, COWD’s Bulk Water Supply Project (BWSP) is the first of its kind in the entire Philippines. This is a supply agreement scheme between the COWD and the contractor for 25 years. The COWD began receiving bulk treated water from the contractor Rio Verde Water Consortium Inc. beginning January 2007 at initial volume of 50,000 cubic meters per day.
This BWSP is coupled with a Lateral Improvement Project, which includes the laying out of mainline pipes ranging from 300-800mm diameter to enable the COWD to accommodate the 100,000 cubic meter production of the Bulk Water Supply, expand service area and further improve water service to the public.