Water lilies, bamboo sticks to clean Laguna de Bay tributaries

Miguel Victor T. Durian

[FEATURE] Water hyancinth and bamboo sticks;  put them together and you have an aquatic acrophyte biosorption system in its simplest form.

Naturally filtered water passes through water hyacinths and bamboo structure (Photo by MTZafaralla)

The simple, cost-effective water filtration system for lakes and rivers was developed by University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) professor Dr. Macrina T. Zafaralla, an adjunct professor at the university’s Institute of Biological Sciences.

Dr. Zafaralla is an environmental biologist. Her concept for the water filtration system can from her 2010 study involving the use of water hyacinths, more commonly referred to as water lilies, to absorb pollutants from bodies of water. The Molawin Creek at the UPLB campus was the site for her study.

By the community for the community: the system being attended to by one of the residents of Sitio Riverside (Photo by MTZafaralla)

Molawin Creek, sometimes referred to as the Molawin River, is the small stream originating from Mt. Makiling and flowing through the University of the Philippines Los Baños campus. It is the creek that flows under the Palma Bridge, flowing further down the Bocobo Bridge by the Seniors’ Social Garden, under which one biosorption system is installed.

Molawin Creek played a role in the establishment of the then UP College of Agriculture back in 1908, because the area proved to be a good source of water for drinking, bathing, constructing, among others. Most importantly, it sustained the rich flora and fauna that inhabited the area, which was necessary for UPCA’s biological laboratories.

Soon, UPCA expanded its perimeters, allowing for the construction of infrastructure through the Rockefeller-Ford Foundation, giving way to a 5-Year Development Program (5YDP). The infrastructure development and the construction of a sewage treatment facility soon collapsed and has not been repaired since.

The untreated sewage waste of UPLB campus, including the wastes from dormitories, housing units, and laboratories are expelled directly into the creek, through the conveyor behind the Physical Plant and Maintenance Services Office (PPMSO). The endpoint of Molawin Creek is Laguna de Bay.

The Aquatic Macrophyte Biosorption System (AMBS) is basically a water filtration system made of bamboo sticks and water hyacinths or water lilies (Eichhornia crassipes). Acting as a barrier, the bamboo sticks are made into a structure similar to an organized beaver dam interlinked by chicken wire and supported by heavy rocks at the front. The water hyacinths are placed like a mat behind the bamboo sticks so that they will not float away. The system is placed perpendicular to the running water, so that the water that will pass through it will be filtered by the roots of the water hyacinths, which absorb solids and filter heavy metals, particularly lead, which causes nervous system decline.

Her main concern on lead contamination is that people living in slum areas catch fish that are contaminated with lead.

It was also a surprising observation that after the system was put up, hundreds of fingerlings begun to proliferate out in the cleansed area of the creek—life science in action. It was “fish galore,” as Dr. Zafaralla had put it. The fingerlings were Tilapia and Biya.

Because of its design, it is suitable for installation in narrow bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and creeks.

Because of the efficiency of the technology, Dr. Zafaralla was recognized with the NAST Hugh Greenwood Environmental Science award in 2010, plus substantial prize money, which she will be investing on this project.

The BioPark and The Community

Because constructing and maintaining the biosorption system does not really need diverse technical knowledge and is cheaper, compared to other state-of-the-art water filtration systems, Dr. Zafaralla hoped that communities will be involved in this project; hence, her idea of the “BioPark” was conceptualized.

Dr. Zafaralla explained that the BioPark is not run by the government but by the community. This is basically like a give-and-take relationship. The community manages the system; the system gives the community clean water and fish to eat.

On August 2010, the Molawin Creek was declared a BioPark, and was henceforth called the Molawin BioPark, as declared by UPLB Chancellor Luis Rey I. Velasco and Vice Chancellor Virginia R. Cardenas.

For now, the sole purpose of converting the Molawin Creek into a BioPark on campus is to protect it by law from being downgraded yet again. Fishing and other recreational activities are also allowed at Molawin as long as visitors will keep the area clean.

Presently, there are six organizations that have joined hands with the UPLB Occupational Health and Safety Standards Committee to help in the stewardship of Molawin creek. Los Baños Mayor Anthony Genuino has also expressed his support for the project.

The installation of the biosorption system garnered positive remarks from the residents of Sitio Riverside, a community of informal settlers, in which one biosoprtion system was also installed.

“Doon ho kami naglalaba at naghuhugas ng pinggan kahit madumi,” said Aling Mika, a resident at Sitio Riverside, who added that she was grateful that the biosoprtion system was put up.

Manong Erik, also a resident of Sitio Riverside, said, “Dati noong hindi pa inilagay yung [biosorption system], napaka-itim ng tubig at wala kaming mahuling isda dito.” Manong Erik also said that he was able to participate in the construction of the biosoprtion system when it was first put up in 2010.

Other residents also claimed that during heavy rains, the system gets washed away. Dr. Zafaralla pointed out that this is one of the reasons why the system should be community-based, so that it would be constantly monitored by the community it serves.

Meanwhile, biosoprtion systems were also installed at one creek at Sta. Rosa, Laguna and another at Tanay, Rizal on June 10, 2011.

Dr. Zafaralla is hoping to put up biosorption systems in the 24 micro-watersheds in Laguna, which she will be carrying out with the help of the River Councils (RC) of Laguna. The idea is to remediate the dirty water from the 24 micro-watersheds before they reach Laguna de Bay.

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