Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje has raised the urgency of setting up Water Quality Management Areas (WQMA) to address water pollution, citing the role of local government units in rehabilitating the country’s dying rivers, lakes and other water bodies.

In a forum held Thursday (March 24), Paje, represented by DENR Assistant Secretary Analiza Teh, underscored the need for active support from local government units to properly address the degrading water quality of rivers in Metro Manila and other urban centers nationwide.

“Designating water quality management areas is an important tool in enforcing the Clean Water Act. It also allows focused interventions to address water quality issues to be developed and implemented in a particular locality,” Paje explained.

Dagupan City Mayor Benjamin Lim shared the local government’s perspectives on WQMA and their responsibilities in the implement Republic Act 9275 or the Philippine Clean Water Act. The regional directors of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) from Regions 1, 3, 6 and 12 likewise presented their experiences as well as the challenges they have encountered in designating WQMAs.

“We are working towards designating more river systems as water quality management areas. But more importantly, we are currently working closely with key stakeholders in these areas to mobilize their governing boards which can be quite a challenge in itself,” Paje said.

The WQMA Governing Board is composed of mayors and governors of concerned LGUs, and representatives of relevant national government agencies, duly registered non-government organization, water utility sector and business sector. The DENR representative chairs the Governing Board.

To date, the DENR has designated four WQMAs, namely the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando River System, Sarangani Bay and Silway River, Tigum-Aganan River System and the Iloilo-Batiano River System.

Under the law, the DENR, in coordination with National Water Resources Board (NWRB), shall designate certain areas as water quality management areas using appropriate physiographic units such as watershed, river basins or water resources regions.

For an area to be designated as WQMA, the rivers comprising the system must have similar hydrological, hydro geological, meteorological or geographic conditions which affect the physical, chemical, biological and bacteriological reactions and diffusion of pollutants in the water bodies, or otherwise share common interest or face similar development programs, prospects or problems.

The designation of WQMA may be initiated by concerned government agencies or the civil society, or by DENR regional offices.