Septage Management System
Septage management systems are practiced in many countries whenever sewerage systems are not possible. However, in the Philippines, local government units are not keen on establishing a septage management system for lack of technical knowledge, limited financial resources and the failure to see the urgency of protecting water resources and the need for clean water.
In 2004, the Clean Water Act was enacted. It mandated that non-highly urbanized cities must establish septage management systems if sewerage systems are not available. In that same year, Dumaguete City was selected by the USAID as one of the pilot sites for the project on “Local Initiatives for Affordable Wastewater Treatment.” This prompted a multi-sectoral group to conduct a situational analysis of the city in terms of existing and potential sources of wastewater, water resources at risk of contamination, local sanitation practices and environmental management ordinances.
An important issue raised by the multi-sectoral group was the risk to the city’s ground water resource from the approximately 20,000 inappropriately constructed and maintained septic tanks in the city. Ground water is the city’s current and sole source of water supply. Another concern was the unregulated and indiscriminate disposal of raw and untreated septage. The group recommended the establishment of a city-wide septage management system as a priority environmental and sanitation program of the city government.
Subsequently, the city government enacted its Septage Management Ordinance in April 2006, which mandated the proper design, construction and maintenance of septic tanks, regular desludging, treatment of septage, collection of “user fee” to recover capital and operating costs, social marketing, information campaign and the creation of a septage management authority.
In 2008, after completing detailed studies and obtaining a clearance and permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Health, the city government started constructing the septage treatment plant using the city’s own development fund. Six months later, the city government entered into a joint venture agreement with the Dumaguete City Water District to implement the septage management system. The agreement stipulates equal sharing between the two parties in capital and operating costs and any future income. It also directed the Water District to collect and transport septage to the treatment plant, implement a septage “user fee” at the rate of PhP2/cubic meter as an add-on to the monthly water bill, and to maintain financial records.
Under the agreement, the city government will take charge of constructing, operating and maintaining the septage treatment plant, which became fully operational in June 2010. The septage treatment plant is non-mechanized and relies on natural processes to stabilize and convert septage into soil conditioners, fertilizers and irrigation water. As of March 2012, a total of 6,711 septic tanks of residences, business establishments, schools and institutions have been desludged and 30,525 cubic meters of septage have been treated at the plant. LGUs outside Dumaguete have also availed of the city’s septage collection and treatment services. Numerous representatives of LGUs, NGOs, schools, water districts and even other countries have visited the city’s septage treatment facility and have expressed their desire to replicate Dumaguete City’s septage management system.
Dumaguete City is the first LGU to undertake the establishment of a septage management system in the country. It is also the first to institute a major and innovative joint undertaking with a water district to protect and preserve its groundwater resource. Today, Dumaguete’s septage management system has emerged as a model of a viable local initiative for preserving valuable water resource and protecting the health of constituencies through appropriate utilization of government funds, good governance, social marketing and private sector support.
The massive information campaign generated public awareness of water resource conservation and improved sanitation practices. The program also highlights the potentials of a positive and productive relationship between a local government unit and a government-owned and controlled corporation. It is proving to be technically and economically viable. It is estimated that in the next three years, the septage management system’s capital costs will be fully recovered and the revenue generated will be returned to the community in the form of other environmental programs and projects.