On March 24, 2014, the Ridge-to-Reef (R2R) cooperation of COSERAM embarked on a sweaty but informative trip to the watershed. About 50 participants from all partner organizations, as well as local representatives were accompanied by the forest guards of the SMWD to get a glimpse of the 967 ha protected Surigao Watershed Resource Reserve (SWRR). After crossing through the buffer zone, we were able to have a look at the so-called “IP tunnels” used for small-scale gold mining, which are located inside the protected area.
The rights of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) to use natural resources within their Ancestral Domain Claim are contravening with their duties for protection of critical watersheds. We discussed with tunnel owners and local officials about the history and operations of the ten tunnels, of which currently only four are operational. We learned that not all tunnels are owned by IPs and many of the mine workers are also non-IPs. During operations groundwater is continuously pumped to keep the 20 m deep tunnels dry, but during the rainy season (Dec – March) operations usually stop altogether and people are relying on panning in the river.
Then we visited the Parang-Parang Dam, which is the main intake for drinking water of Surigao City. During dry spells, however, water flow is often not enough and storage capacity is too limited to cover the total demand. SMWD has therefore started to tab new surface water sources outside the protected core zone and also access groundwater. During very heavy rains, the turbidity of the water increases above the treatment capacity of the water treatment plant and supply is again not enough. The
refore, SMWD has also started to improve their treatment plant with a small clarifier.
Finally, participants learned about the different reforestation activities in the past and the difficulties with survival rates of seedlings. Discussions also addressed problems of prosecution of illegal logging activities. We were able to plant a number of seedlings, before heading to the barangay hall for further reflection.
The event gave a firsthand experience on natural resources uses and protection efforts and sparked discussion on more sustainable uses like eco-tourism in the watershed.
by Dr. Anke Steinel, Technical Advisor to Surigao Metropolitan Water District (SMWD)