One of those that people in Davao City should protect and give value is the Davao River Basin (DRB). More than half (66.5%) of the basin’s total length of 86 kilometers is located in the city.

The river’s total area is 175,960 hectares. About 25.3% of it is in Bukidnon and only 8.3% is in Davao del Norte, particularly Talaingod. In Bukidnon, the river passes first in San Fernando (16.6%), then to Valencia City (0.1%), Quezon (6.3%) and Kitaotao (2.3%).

When talking about river basins, watershed comes into mind. To some, watershed means forestlands. According to the Davao River Basin Master Plan, 75% of the area occupied by DRB is forestlands while 25% are classified as alienable and disposable lands.

Bukidnon has 43,105 hectares of forestlands while 1,332 hectares are considered alienable and disposable lands. In Davao del Norte, only 13,841 hectares occupied by DRB are forestlands while 946 hectares are alienable and disposable lands.

The bulk of the forestlands are located in Davao City: 78,423 hectares. On the other hand, the total alienable and disposable lands are 38,663 hectares.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, gives this bit of information: “Average flows within the river near to the mouth are estimated at 70-80 cubic meters per second. The climate type is relatively uniform throughout the year with evenly distributed rainfall and temperatures and humidity. The area rarely experiences typhoons.”

“Less than 3% of the world’s water is fresh, the rest is seawater and undrinkable,” said Engr. John F. Baynosa, pollution control and safety officer of the Davao City Water District (DCWD), who presented a paper during the workshop.

About 7.88 million cubic meters of water are produced by DCWD. The water comes from 57 production wells, one spring, 19 booster pumps, 26 chlorinating facilities, 12 ground reservoirs, 2 sedimentation basins and 4 slow sand filters.

“The main drinking water sources for Davao City are in the neighboring Talomo watershed,” Wikipedia claims. “These sources are under pressure and the Davao River Basin is likely to be required for water abstraction in the near future.”

Unfortunately, Davao River has been identified as one of the polluted rivers in the country today. “Davao River plays a very important role to the people of Davao City, but unfortunately its water quality has considerably deteriorated based on the 5-year water quality assessment made by the Environment Management Bureau,” said the regional office of the environment department.

“Pollution is due mainly to the unregulated use and poor methods of fertilizers and pesticides, inappropriate land use practices, inadequate monitoring of industrial and commercial premises and activities, and poor maintenance of septic tanks and absence of sewerage,” said a briefing paper circulated during the workshop.

In fact, river pollution is one of the key problems identified by the Davao River Situational Report. Other key problems include water drainage and surface runoff, river bank erosion, flooding, and soil erosion.

The health impacts of pesticide use have also been identified as another key problem. So is the lack of implementation of existing laws.

The Davao River goes all the way to Davao Gulf. The master plan has identified the river as a major source of siltation in Davao Gulf. The World Wildlife Fund considers Davao Gulf as one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world. Diverse coral reefs, different mangrove species, cetaceans and a host of invertebrates contribute to the natural diversity of the gulf.

The Philippines has 412 principal river basins in 119 proclaimed watersheds. However, only 19 are considered major river basins. The longest river is the Cagayan located in Region II. In Mindanao, the principal rivers are the Rio Grande de Mindanao (known as the Pulangi River in its upper reaches) and the Agusan (where the late Lolong, the world’s largest crocodile was caught).

Watersheds play a big part in the survival of these rivers. “Healthy watershed areas are crucial to a balanced eco-system,” said Councilor Leonardo Avila III, chair on the committee of environment. “Watershed areas are sources of life-giving water – vital to public health, welfare and economic growth and development.”

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) agrees. “Effective watershed management is an iterative process of evaluating, planning, restoring and organizing land and resource use within a watershed to provide desired goods and services while maintaining and supporting the livelihoods of resident populations.”

So much so that major stakeholders formed themselves into an organization called Davao River Basin (DRB). Its vision statement is: “A healthy Davao River Basin sustainably managed by empowered and responsible stakeholders.”

Actually, the DRB master plan is two-fold: (1) to improve the quality and sustainability of ecosystem goods and services derived from DRB and enhance the competitive advantage of the river basin; and (2) to promote local socio-economic growth of communities in DRB and reduce rural poverty.

Can DRB do it? It remains to be seen. However, the statement of the late American president John F. Kennedy is a timely reminder: “Anyone who can solve the problems of water will be worthy of two Nobel prizes -- one for peace and another for science.”