Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Philippines: Smart Sanitation Cleans Lilo-an’s Coast
February 2007

Sublime beaches used to attract tourists to Lilo-an, a small town on Cebu Island—until the coastal waters turned dangerously dirty. Wastewater from the public market's septic tank was discharged straight into the sea. A new wastewater treatment facility saved Lilo-an's coast from pollution before it was too late. But can the town sustain this solution to their sanitation problem? SMARTER SANITATION SYSTEM FOR LILO-AN Lilo-an's coastline is clearing up of pollution as a new decentralized wastewater treatment facility (WTF) began treating the town's wastewater. Inaugurated in 2005, the facility was the brainchild of a unique partnership between the Lilo-an municipal government, the national government's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Using a locally-made technology called the "Rotating Biological Contactor," the WTF now treats 60-100 cubic meters of wastewater a day. It serves the public market, which has more than 100 vendors, and about 200 households close to the area. The facility, built right in the middle of residential houses, collects wastewater from households and the public market through Lilo-an's existing canal system, removes more than 90% of the biodegradable organisms, and releases the treated water safely back into the ocean. Treated water, in turn, helps reduce disease-causing coliform bacteria and makes Liloan's coastal waters safe for swimming and other beach activities once again. "Decentralized wastewater treatment facilities are small units that can be put up directly at places of major wastewater outfalls to be able to use the existing drainage, and in this way, intercept wastewater before it is discharged into the environment," says DENR advisor Andreas Koenig. The facility now serves both the public market and nearby residential areas. BAD PUBLICITY SENDS WAKE-UP CALL Lilo-an's beaches used to be highly popular destinations to visitors from Cebu City and nearby urban areas. However, due to water pollution, the number of visitors dropped dramatically while industries that thrive on tourism— restaurants, transportation, souvenir shops, and numerous small beach vendors—faced serious customer decline.

Authorities were alerted to the coast's deteriorating state by a local newspaper's story entitled "Dirty Beach Water Unfit for Swimming." The report noted a high concentration of coliform cells in the coastal waters—a clear indication of human and animal waste contamination, which largely accounted for the dwindling number of weekend tourists. But even without the publicity, the water's dark brown color and foul smell would surely have made tourists turn back or find another beach. Attention focused on the Lilo-an public market, whose liquids—extracts from vegetables, fish and other meat products, and wastewater effluents from public toilets—were flowing in an uncontrolled fashion into the sea. The market was equipped with only an old septic tank, which is insufficient in maintaining proper hygienic conditions. Public health became highly threatened as the pollution caused skin allergies. Water-borne diseases became common to residents and tourists alike. A seminar-workshop on mitigating environmental pollution in 2003 opened the possibility of constructing the low-cost water treatment facility. ADB's financing facility for small water pilot and demonstration activities provided the much needed funding for the construction of the facility and toilet renovations in Lilo-an's public market. BUILDING BLOCKS AND STUMBLING BLOCKS The construction of the decentralized water treatment facility was no easy feat, the stakeholders found out in the course of the project's implementation. Barriers to the facility's completion emerged, as communication between stakeholders became difficult with the lack of committed water champions to oversee the project's goals and coordinate efforts. With constant stakeholder consultations and a year of planning, however, a team of champions emerged—Andreas Koenig who coordinated the entire project, Pye Roble who assured and ensured Lilo-an residents of the project's benefits, and Jesselito Baring who engineered the facility. Together, they pushed the construction into completion in five months. But even with the structure finally in place, there was still the matter of coming up with a suitable cost recovery scheme. Fortunately, Lilo-an's market vendors realized that there is a direct connection between the cleanliness of the beach, the arrival of tourists and weekend visitors, and their own income.

The vendors, who have already established the Lilo-an Community Multi-Purpose Cooperative, now have bigger roles to play. With a Memorandum of Agreement signed with the local government unit, the Cooperative assumed responsibility for the water treatment facility’s operations and maintenance. Hands-on workshops were held to increase the Cooperative's capacity to operate and maintain the facility. The Cooperative also assumed responsibility for managing the toilets in the public market. Members have agreed to contribute a fee of PhP10 daily, of which PhP 3.00 serves as a user fee for the WTF, and the rest goes to the Cooperative's savings account. Fees for the use of the market's public toilets were also set at P2.00 per use. A SHORTER ROAD TO FULL COST RECOVERY Today, roughly 100 cooperative members pay the WTF user fee. Interestingly enough, the collection from the WTF user fees remain untouched. As it turned out, the funds from the toilet operation can already cover the WTF O&M costs, and still leave a net income of P42,000.00 (after one year). In other words, a WTF user fee payment of P90.00 per month for each cooperative member yields a monthly “profit” of P35 (i.e. almost 40%). Given this, project full cost recovery is now estimated to be possible after 16 years. Still, 16 years for full cost recovery is a long wait. It would also dissuade other communities from pursuing similar projects. Alternative schemes were sought to fast-track the recovery of project costs. In consultation with ADB, project stakeholders agreed to take up several income generating activities. Some of these are Collecting user fees from neighboring small businesses and residential areas, which are also connected to the water treatment facility Increasing the Cooperative's membership by encouraging nearby business owners and residents to avail of cooperative shares Recycling or selling treated wastewater for use in flushing toilets or for gardening Offering to treat contents of commercial and household septic tanks for a fee These cost recovery schemes also provide income generating opportunities to Cooperative members and have made them keenly aware of their roles in the sustainability of the wastewater management system. With these schemes, full cost recovery is now expected to be achieved in 10 years or less. FROM WASTEWATER TO CLEAN WATER Today, fecal coliform cells are almost nonexistent along the Lilo-an coastline. Their number dropped radically just a few months after the water treatment facility began its operations.

Lilo-an mayor Maria Sevilla says, "I still couldn't believe that we are able to own and operate a WTF, which is, I think, the first of its kind in northern Cebu." People once again enjoy the clear waters of Lilo-an, bringing hopes of a thriving tourism industry and a prosperous economy. Beyond that, students, community members, and local officials from neighboring towns flock to Lilo-an to learn about the water treatment facility. Given its relatively low cost, good potential for cost recovery, and radical environmental results, it is easy to see how the project can serve as a good model for getting other communities interested in environmental sanitation, a mandate in the Philippines' Clean Water Act that, until now, has sorely been neglected. Not willing to rest on its laurels, the Liloan municipal government is now searching for financial support to construct and operate a training center at the WTF site. Cooperative members would then be trained to conduct simple training sessions on wastewater treatment to share their knowledge to those interested. RELATED LINKS Water Champion Maria Sevilla on Decentralized Wastewater Management: Big Results from Small Solutions PDA: Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Facility for the Lilo-an Public Market Photo Essay: Rescuing Lilo-an’s Coastline

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in February 2007: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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