The Bicol River

The Bicol River is the eighth largest river in the Philippines in terms of drainage basin size with an estimated catchment area of 3,770 km². The river drains the southwestern part of the island of Luzon and passes through Albay, Camarines Sur, and Camarines Norte provinces in the Bicol Region. The Bicol River encompasses 33 municipalities and 3 cities. Camarines Sur and Albay share 90 percent of the area, while the rest lies in Camarines Norte. In Camarines Sur, the river and its tributaries cover 138 barangays from 19 municipalities, affecting 67,432 households.

The river starts from Lake Bato in Albay and Camarines Sur, 6 meters above sea level, and flows 94 kilometers downstream to its estuarine mouth at San Miguel Bay. Three lakes, Lake Buhi, Lake Baao, and Lake Bato, drain water into the Bicol River. The river passes through the alluvial and coastal plains of the vast Bicol Valley, an elongated, northwesterly trending depression in the Bicol Region, which contains alluvial plains to the coastal plain. The principal tributary of the Bicol River is the Sipocot River. Unlike the main river, the Sipocot River cuts through mountainous terrain and has a steeper slope. The Bicol River after joining the Sipocot River, widens to more than 1,000 meters across at the estuary before discharging into San Miguel Bay.

The basin has an influence area of 10,058 km² including its drainage basin. The Bicol River is a vast wetland ecosystem that supports a rich array of biodiversity that provides economic benefits to people living along and within the floodplains of the river. About 1.3 million people around the Bicol River area are dependent on economic sources from the river like agriculture and fishing.

As the longest water system in the region, the Bicol River represents tremendous value and environmental, recreational, economical, and cultural potential for the communities through which it flows. The Bicol River serves as a transportation route and source of livelihood and domestic and irrigation water in the municipalities surrounding it.

It also has a critical role in the balance of ecology and mitigation of the impacts of climate change, as it is a vast wetland ecosystem that supports a rich array of biodiversity. The Bicol River's natural attributes are also promising for ecotourism, which can bring additional income for residents and increased revenue for the local government unit.

History of Bicol River

The Bicol River can be found in early Spanish charts as early as 14th century. Invariably named in the early Spanish charts as Vicor, Vicol, Bico, believed to have emanated from Bico, an indigenous word which means twisted or bent, according to Fray Marcos de Lisboa's seventeenth century Bicol-Spanish dictionary, referring to the looping directions of the river. The first Bishop of Manila, Domingo Salazar, who journeyed in the province in 1581 upon his arrival from Spain, described the waters of the river as "crystalline" or "crystal-clear." 6 Steamships drawing eleven feet may go up to Nueva Caceres (present-day Naga), twenty-five miles from the ocean, and light vessels may go as far as Lake Bato, seventy miles from the mouth of the river. As such, the Bicol River, by reason of its superior navigability, is considered one of the most important inland waterways of Luzon during the Spanish and American rules.

A steamboat used to transport passengers from Nueva Caceres to the bar of Cabusao in the later part of the nineteenth century, from the 1875 issue of the Spanish newspaper, El Oriente, at the Archivo Franciscano Iberro-Orietal, Madrid.

Location of Bicol River
Bicol River Map

Situated in the Bicol Peninsula, the Bicol River embraces the central portion of Camarines Sur, the northern portion of Albay, and a portion of Camarines Norte. The basin is oriented in a northwest-southeast direction and bounded on the east by a chain of volcanoes and on the west by highlands and lowhills. The flat alluvial land in the Bicol Plain occupies the area between the Eastern Bicol Cordillera and the Ragay Hills. The runoff which is estimated annually at 5,100 million cubic meters, starts from the Mayon Volcano with an elevation of 4,421m, and meanders in a generally northwestward direction. After being regulated through lakes Bato, Buhi, and Baao, the streamflow reaches the mainstream of the Bicol River which owing to its very gentle slope, is affected by tides as far as upstream of Naga City.

Fast facts about the Bicol River:

  • 8th largest river in the Philippines.
  • Covering three provinces: Camerines Sur, Camarines Norte, and Albay. Affecting 67,432 households.
  • Passes through 33 municipalities and 3 cities
  • Influence area: 10,058 km2
Bicol River Territorial Map

Fast facts about the Bicol River:

  • The basin has an influence area of 10,058 square kilometers including its drainage basin.
  • It lies between 13°0 to 14°N and 123°0 and 124°0 E.
  • River Classification – Pawili River - Class C
  • Land Classification – Alienable/Disposable - 82.76% | Forest Land - 17.24%
Bicol River

The Bicol River is the eighth largest river in the Philippines in terms of drainage basin size with an estimated catchment area of 3,770 km²

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