The mere mention of the place “Laguna” conjures up images of summer days enjoyably spent dipping and swimming in hot spring pools of Los Baños and Calamba City while enjoying a breath-taking view of Mount Makiling in the background. Who would have thought that there are underlying threats to this beautiful experience in the future?
Mount Makiling watershed is an important watershed that supports the domestic, agricultural, and industrial water requirements of Los Baños and Calamba City in Laguna and Sto. Tomas in Batangas. Being a dormant volcano, Mount Makiling is teeming with hot springs and hot groundwater sources leading to the establishment of numerous resorts in Los Baños and Calamba City that capitalize on having natural hot spring water in their swimming pools and baths.
Over the years, the number of resorts in Los Baños and Calamba City has significantly increased, and with this the attendant increase in the number of tourists. The heightened economic activities bring higher incomes for resort and generate employment and livelihood opportunities for other business establishments such as restaurants, food stalls, convenience stores, and variety stores.
However, the growth of the resort-based tourism industry in Los Baños and Calamba City also has negative side effects. The more obvious is the traffic congestion that residents and tourists alike experience especially when tourist arrivals peak from March to May. During this time of the year, motorists spend two to three hours on the 10-km road from Los Baños to Calamba City that takes only 15 to 20 minutes on normal days.
Perhaps not as obvious but potentially can be more serious is the impact of the industry on water resources. It is common to see water being drained from pools, sometimes onto the roads, especially by the operators of smaller resorts. There appears to be no regulation on how resorts utilize groundwater. Ideally, resort owners and operators should apply for water use permit from the National Water Resources Board, together with other permits required by the local government units, thereby submitting themselves to existing water use regulation and audit by authorities.
To help address these problems, the Foreign Assisted and Special Projects Service (FASPS) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is funding a project that investigates the extent of the resort-based tourism industry in Los Baños and Calamba City, Laguna. The project is being implemented by a research team from the Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, College of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of the Philippines Los Baños composed of Dr. Margaret Calderon, Dr. Canesio Predo, Dr. Analyn Codilan, Asst. Prof. Vanessa Palma-Torres, Asst. Prof. Jan Joseph Dida and For. Angela Alducente. The project aims to contribute to the formulation of evidence-based water conservation policies of local government units and the sustainable management of the Mount Makiling Forest Reserve (MMFR). It employs Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to analyze the spatial distribution of resorts, economic methods to analyze the willingness-to-pay of visitors for improved water conservation practices by resorts, conservation of MMFR to secure water services and identify the positive and negative externalities caused by the resort-based tourism industry, and policy and institutional analyses to investigate groundwater governance in Los Baños and Calamba City.
The initial results of the project indicate that the number of resorts in Los Baños and Calamba City has increased significantly for the last seven years, from 42 and 466 in 2014 to 171 and 855 in 2020, respectively. The Environment and Natural Resources Officers of Los Baños and Calamba City agree that measures are needed to ensure the sustainable use of water resources. Already, there is anecdotal evidence that it now takes longer to fill up pools in Calamba City with water, and that the water is not as hot as before. A survey of the resorts shows that resort owners or caretakers practice water conservation by reusing pool water waste on lawns and shrubs, lowering pool water level, checking pool pump and leaks, and strategizing pool landscaping. Additionally, majority of visitor respondents have expressed their willingness to pay for the conservation of groundwater resource from Mount Makiling for the main reasons that they want to contribute to the conservation efforts, and they believe that the current practice is wasteful because groundwater is indeed limited.
Likewise, a household survey reveals that local communities are enjoying benefits from the resort-based tourism industry such as development and improvement of infrastructures (e.g., roads), increased investments from the public and private sectors, improved delivery of public services (e.g., health services), improved recreational and cultural services, and increased employment opportunities and sources of income. Unfortunately, they bear the external costs like crowding or congestion, worsening traffic condition, noise pollution, higher cost of living (e.g., higher prices of basic consumer goods, high cost of land or space rental), increased solid waste volume, flooding, and sewage or drainage problems, increased occurrence of water-borne diseases, high crime incidence, and depletion of the groundwater resource. A slightly higher percentage of household respondents favor the future expansion and further investments in the resort-based tourism industry in their area. A smaller percentage of them, however, reject the idea of future expansion for lack of available space and because they believe that it will do more harm than good. (Groundwater Use Special Project Team)