By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor

Residents of Metro Manila were forced to drink bottled water after the water coming out of their taps became contaminated by floodwater last week.

After two typhoons Rolly and Ulysses struck the Philippines within a week of each other, Metro Manila consumers found dirty water flowing out from their faucets.

Maynilad and Manila Water, the two companies that hold the franchise to distribute water throughout the National Capital Region, admitted that murky water was coming out of taps in numerous areas.

In some cases, water quality was at 6,000 Nephelometric Turbidity units, way beyond the previous all-time high of 1,800 NTU.

NTU is a measure of how many solid particles are present in the water, making it less clear or even muddy.

Maynilad blamed the off colored water to the supply coming from Ipo Dam in Bulacan province. Because the two storms had caused most dams in the country to overflow, affecting the production of clean water. In the case of Ipo, its La Mesa Treatment Plant in Quezon City could not  treat the oversupply, which entered the water mains in Metro Manila.

The two water distributors both cut the supply but not before tainted water had already reached the homes of consumers.

In a statement at the end of last week, Maynilad said: “Affected consumers therefore experienced a longer service interruption than originally projected. We regret that we will not be able to normalize water supply for our affected customers until rains over the Ipo watershed stop, and the turbidity level goes down to manageable levels.”

What further angered consumers was when Maynilad originally announced the interruption of service would end by Saturday, only to renege on its commitment by saying that regular supply would be unavailable “until further notice.”

About the only piece of good news for all consumers was that because of the rains brought in by Rolly and Ulysses, all the dams in Luzon were now filled to full capacity, which means that the supply of fresh water is assured for the remainder of the year.

Furthermore, supply is set to normalize throughout Metro Manila by this week.

Consumers were advised to open their taps and let the murky water flow until it starts to clear.

In extreme cases, they should also boil their water before drinking or using in cooking.

Aside from the interrupted water supply, Metro Manila consumers also had to face power outages in various parts of the metropolis. The brown outs lasted anywhere from a few hours to a full day but the outages were expected to be longer in areas where power lines were felled by the strong winds.

Outside of Metro Manila, however, residents faced more serious problems than a lack of water or power. In some cities and towns, floodwaters rose to as high as the rooftops of first and even second storey houses, forcing the residents to climb to their roofs while waiting to be rescued by their local government units.

The worst case was in Cagayan in the northern part of Luzon, where authorities admitted that they were “blindsided.” It was not known until the latest storm had left the Philippine area of responsibility that large parts of the province had been inundated by floods. This, after Magat Dam released its waters, reportedly without sufficient warning to residents.

Hundreds of homes were lost, and the death toll as of press time stood at 69, although this is expected to rise dramatically after the floodwaters recede.

The national government is expected to mount a massive rescue and relief effort this week, even as the private sector plans extensive support for the tens of thousands of families who have lost their homes.