What you should know about the Clean Water Act
- Why the need for the Clean Water Act?
As early as 1996, monitoring of the country’s rivers showed that only 51% of the classified rivers still met the standards for their most beneficial use. The rest were already polluted from domestic, industrial and agricultural sources.
Most studies point to the fact that domestic wastewater is the principal cause of organic pollution (at 48%) of our water bodies. Yet, only 3% of investments in water supply and sanitation were going to sanitation and sewage treatment.
A recent World Bank report pointed out that Metro Manila was second to the lowest in sewer connections among major cities in Asia and less than 7% compared to 20% for Katmandu, Nepal and 30% for Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Thirty-one percent (31%) of all illnesses in the country are attributed to polluted waters. Clearly, to ensure access to clean water for all Filipinos, it was imperative that government put together a comprehensive strategy to protect water quality.
- What is the Clean Water Act?
The Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 (Republic Act No. 9275) aims to protect the country’s water bodies from pollution from land-based sources (industries and commercial establishments, agriculture and community/household activities). It provides for a comprehensive and integrated strategy to prevent and minimize pollution through a multi-sectoral and participatory approach involving all the stakeholders.
Highlights of the Clean Water Act
- How will water quality be managed?
Management of water quality will either be based on watershed, river basin or water resources region. Water quality management areas with similar hydrological, hydrogeological, meteorological or geographic conditions which affect the reaction and diffusion of pollutants in water bodies are to be designated by the DENR in coordination with the National Water Resources Board (NWRB).
- Who will manage these areas?
Management will be localized. Multi-sectoral governing boards will be established to manage water quality issues within their jurisdiction.
- Who are the members of the Governing Boards?
Governing Boards shall be composed of representatives of mayors and governors as well as local government units, representatives of relevant national government agencies, duly registered non-government organizations, the concerned water utility sector and the business sector.
- What are the functions of the Governing Boards?
The Governing Boards will formulate strategies to coordinate policies necessary for the effective implementation of this Act. They will create a multi-sectoral group to establish and effect water quality surveillance and monitoring.
- How will discharges of wastewater be controlled?
All owners or operators of facilities that discharge wastewater are required to get a permit to discharge from the DENR or the Laguna Lake Development Authority. Existing industries without any permit are given 12 months from the effectivity of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) promulgated pursuant to this Act to secure a permit to discharge.
- How will domestic wastewater be addressed?
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), in coordination with local government units will prepare a national program on sewage and septage management not later than 12 months from effectivity of this Act. A priority list will likewise be prepared which will be the basis for the allotment of funds on an annual basis by the national government for the construction and rehabilitation of required facilities.
On the other hand, LGUs are to provide the land including road right of the way for the construction of sewage and/or septage treatment facilities and raise funds for the operations and maintenance of said facilities.
The Department of Health (DOH) will formulate guidelines and standards for the collection, treatment and disposal of sewage as well as the guidelines for the establishment and operation of centralized sewage treatment system. The MWSS and other agencies mandated to provide water supply and sewerage facilities are required to connect existing sewage lines, subject to the payment of sewerage service charges/fees within five years following effectivity of this Act.
All sources of sewage and septage are required to comply with the law.
- How will the discharge of wastewater be discouraged?
Anyone discharging wastewater into a water body will have to pay a wastewater charge. This economic instrument which will be developed in consultation with all concerned stakeholders is expected to encourage investments in cleaner production and pollution control technologies to reduce the amount of pollutants generated and discharged.
Effluent trading per management area will also be allowed.
Rewards will also be given to those whose wastewater discharge is better than the water quality criteria of the receiving body of water. Fiscal and non-fiscal incentives will also be given to LGUs, water districts, enterprise, private entities and individuals who develop and undertake outstanding and innovative projects in water quality management.
- What safeguards are provided for?
All possible dischargers are required to put up an environmental guarantee fund (EGF) as part of their environmental management plan. The EGF will finance the conservation of watersheds and aquifers, and the needs of emergency response, clean up or rehabilitation.
- What are the prohibited acts under R.A. 9275?
Among others, the Act prohibits the following:
- Discharging or depositing any water pollutant to the water body, or such which will impede natural flow in the water body
- Discharging, injecting or allowing to enter into the soil, anything that would pollute groundwater
- Operating facilities that discharge regulated water pollutants without the valid required permits
- Disposal of potentially infectious medical waste into sea by vessels
- Unauthorized transport or dumping into waters of sewage sludge or solid waste.
- Transport, dumping or discharge of prohibited chemicals, substances or pollutants listed under Toxic Chemicals, Hazardous and Nuclear
- Wastes Control Act (Republic.Act No. 6969)
- Discharging regulated water pollutants without the valid required discharge permit pursuant to this Act
- Noncompliance of the LGU with the Water Quality Framework and Management Area Action Plan
- Refusal to allow entry, inspection and monitoring as well as access to reports and records by the DENR in accordance with this Act
- Refusal or failure to submit reports and/or designate pollution control officers whenever required by the DENR in accordance with this Act
- Directly using booster pumps in the distribution system or tampering with the water supply in such a way to alter or impair the water quality
- Operate facilities that discharge or allow to seep, willfully or through grave negligence, prohibited chemicals, substances, or pollutantslisted under R.A. No. 6969, into water bodies.
- Undertake activities or development and expansion of projects, or operating wastewater treatment/sewerage facilities in violation of P.D.1586 and its IRR.
- What are the fines and penalties imposed on polluters?
The following are among the fines and penalties for violators of this Act and its IRR:
Upon the recommendation of the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB), anyone who commits prohibited acts such as discharging untreated wastewater into any water body will be fined for every day of violation, the amount of not less than Php 10,000 but not more than Php 200,000.
Failure to undertake clean-up operations willfully shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than two years and not more than four years. This also includes a fine of not less than Php 50,000 and not more than Php 100,000 per day of violation. Failure or refusal to clean up which results in serious injury or loss of life or lead to irreversible water contamination of surface, ground, coastal and marine water shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than 6 years and 1 day and not more than 12 years and a fine of Php 500,000/day for each day the contamination or omission continues.
In cases of gross violation, a fine of not less than Php 500,000 but not more than Php 3,000,000 will be imposed for each day of violation. Criminal charges may also be filed.
- Who should implement the Clean Water Act?
The DENR is the primary government agency responsible for the implementation and enforcement of this Act, with the support of other government organizations, local government units, non -government organizations and the private sector.
Towards this end, the DENR will review and set affluent standards, review and enforce water quality guidelines, classify groundwater sources and prepare a national groundwater vulnerability map, classify or reclassify water bodies, establish internationally accepted procedures for sampling and analysis, prepare an integrated water quality management framework and subsequently prepare 10-year management plans for each water management area.
The roles of other key government agencies are:
• The Philippine Coast Guard shall enforce water quality standards in marine waters, specifically from offshore sources.
• The Department of Public Works and Highways through its attached agencies shall provide sewerage and sanitation facilities, and the efficient and safe collection, treatment and disposal of sewage within their area of jurisdiction.
• The Department of Agriculture shall formulate guidelines for the re-use of wastewater for irrigation and other agricultural uses and for the prevention, control and abatement of pollution from agricultural and aquaculture activities.
• The Department of Health shall set, revise and enforce drinking water quality standards.
• The Department of Science and Technology shall evaluate, verify, develop and disseminate pollution prevention and cleaner production technologies.
• The Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Philippine Information Agency shall prepare and implement a comprehensive and continuing public education and information program.