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Current State of the Bicol River

Based on the biophysical assessment and rapid resource appraisal of the Bicol River by a team from the Province of Camarines Sur, the Bicol River is confronted with numerous problems, most of them anthropogenic in nature. The following are some of the critical issues identified during the study:

Soil Erosion

A number of stretches of the Bicol River eroded in in different levels of severity. In barangay Palsong, Bula, a single section ca. 500 m in length is undergoing active erosion. Similar problem is experienced in Baao, Minalabac, Camaligan and Gainza. The erosion of the riverbank in barangay Tarosanan in Camaligan damaged a house and directly threatened at least five more.




Congestion of Waterway

The congestion of waterway is most felt in the municipalities after the downstream flow from Lake Buhi. This is where many fish cages span across the Bicol River. The fish cages block the downstream movement of water hyacinth thereby aggravating the congestion and impeding water flow. The presence of this thick mat of water hyacinth makes travel on the Bicol River relatively difficult. Some 6499 households or 31,000 people reside within the 30-meter easement along the river.




Solid and Liquid Wastes

Solid and liquid wastes are among the primary sources of water pollution in the Bicol River. A number of solid waste riverbank dumps were documented in several municipalities. The solid wastes are mostly non-biodegradable materials, primarily plastics, and many have found their way into the Bicol River. Improper solid wage disposal is one of the biggest threats in the ecological sustainability of the area. Liquid wastes are likewise discharged directly into the Bicol River via drainage pipes, canals and culverts, leaking septic tanks, and run-off from operations of pigpens and commercial establishments. The indiscriminate disposal of wastes into the river resulted to the decline of water quality in some of its covered sites.




Fish Kills and Declining Fish Catch

Seasonal incidences of fish kills have been reported in some areas several towns in Camarines Sur. The phenomenon usually occurs immediately after periods of sudden rainfall, particularly following a long dry season. Residents attribute the cause of the fish kills to industrial companies that discharge effluents directly into the Pawili River, a major tributary of the Bicol River. Declining fish catch due to over-caging, loss of spawning and migration routes and lowwater level due to the deposition of silt and unconsumed feeds also caused the decline of fish catch in the Bicol River basin.




Conflict In Water Use

There is also conflict in water use, as water demand for fishery, irrigation and hydropower increases. Overtime, the irrigation systems have become deteriorated, causing low agricultural production.




Destruction of River Buffers

Unregulated cutting of trees and bamboos is rampant in many parts of the Bicol River. Trees and mangroves are cut and processed for lumber and charcoal. In many instances in almost all of the areas, trees are being cut down for use as wood posts for houses while the branches are utilized as firewood. Where the making of handicraft from bamboo is a primary occupation of the residents, unregulated and uncontrolled harvesting of bamboos is rampant.




Siltation

Siltation is the pollution of water by fine particulate terrestrial elastic material, with a particle size dominated by silt or clay. It is one of the most severe threats to the Bicol River because it makes the water to become murky especially during heavy rains and other similar events. It is observed from Bula to Cabusao.

Ecologically, the siltation chiefly affects the aquatic community in two ways: (1) the suspended sediment may interfere with the food gathering of filtering organisms, and (2) the sediment accumulation on the bottom may bury organisms to the point that they starve or even die. If the concentration is extreme it will sufficiently decrease the level of light and can impact on primary productivity in the Bicol River.

The siltation may have come from the upland areas of Albay and Camarines Sur and carried into the Bicol River via the tributaries, and the many eroded embankments along its course.




Water Pollution

Possible inorganic and heavy metal pollution is suspected in the Bicol River. Tracts of rice paddies are situated along the river from its source to its discharge point. The heavy use of pesticides in these farms may leach inorganic substances into the river. Inorganic pollutants may also come from detergents and fabric conditioners used in washing clothes. The dumping of garbage and seepage of liquid wastes into the Bicol River through the drainage canals and other means may carry heavy metals pollutants. Acidic surface water can adversely affect birds, fish, and other aquatic organisms. Humans can also be affected by direct ingestion of contaminated surface water or direct contact through outdoor activities such as swimming. In addition, coliform contamination is surmised to be high from leaks in septic tanks and the practice of direct discharge into the Bicol River.

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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