PAOAY, Ilocos Norte, Feb. 11 — It had to take an international event to do what good intentions failed to do for years in the Paoay Lake.
Paoay Lake has been blighted by wastes coming from fish cages resulting in high e-coli bacteria contamination for years.
Communities around the 387-hectare lake also make use of it as a disposal area for their poultry and piggery. And it is where the local water district draws its raw water source for consumers’ tap water.
The areas with the highest ecoli-bacteria concentration were noted in the villages of Sungadan (5,680 hpc) and Nagbacalan (5,780 hpc) where most fish cages were found.
Getting rid of the fish cages on the lake has always been a challenge for the provincial government until the holding of the 71st International Regatta with Paoay Lake as the venue of the international rowing competition last month.
On top of organizing the global water sports, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos made sure that the lake will be free from debris of all kinds before the sporting event began.
The Ilocos Norte Water District (INWAD) started collecting water samples in July 2011 in five communities that surround the lake namely in the villages of Nangguyudan, Nangguyudan Centro, Sungadan, Suba and Nagbacalan.
Test results confirmed the presence of ecoli-bacteria ranging from 2,840 hpc (heterotrophic plate count) in one sampling point to 5,780 hpc in another point, way above the normal level of 500 hpc.
Marcos was delighted to announce before the event started last January 13 that the villages around the lake had kept the lake free from fish cages.
“We pulled out the last fish cages which have been causing pollution,” Marcos said during the inaugural launch of the week-long sports competition last January 15.
Marcos said water sampling conducted after the cages were removed last January has shown a diminished contamination level.
“We are proud to declare that Paoay Lake is pollution-free. No other place can offer this,” she said.
Jinky Calapit, Inwad’s medical technologist, said water taken from the lake undergo several treatments from micro-filtration to chlorination before they are fed as tap water to their consumers.
“Lake water becomes free of any contaminants once it undergoes treatment. We make sure that water is safe for human consumption,” she said.
Calapit said the Paoay Lake has always been positive of the e-coli bacteria which becomes even higher during the rainy season.
“Even our deep wells are contaminated with e-coli, how much more with raw water (from Paoay Lake) which does not undergo any kind of water treatment. Without chlorine treatment, water from deep wells will not be free of bacteria,” Calapit said.
The provincial government is now working on promoting the lake as a future international training hub for rowing. Paoay officials have likewise initiated efforts to make the lake a venue for college water sports.
Paoay Mayor Bonifacio Clemente Jr. said the lake’s development is part of a tourism master plan that the provincial government has drawn beginning 2010.
Locals started promoting the lake in 2010 as a site for various activities from stand-up paddle boarding to boat rides but they have yet to take off as a regular income earner for locals.
The site is a favorite spot for picnics and birdwatching during the cold spell when migratory birds from Asian countries flock to the lake to seek temporary shelter. (Cristina Arzadon)