“Where there was water to drink, is toxic waste that stinks.” On Baroro Watershed Fragmentation – A Recipe for Disaster

4 July 2018, San Juan, La Union.  “Fragmentation is our enemy and a recipe for disaster.” – Peter Holmgren, Director General of Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

That was the introductory line of the Policy Brief on Fragmentation, Ecosystem Services and Climate Change: The Case of  Baroro Watershed, La Union, Philippines; based om the results of the project Community-Based Adaptation: Enhancing Climate Change Resilience of Communities and Ecosystems through Participatory Watershed Management, funded by  the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) and implemented by the College of Forestry and Natural Resources (CFNR) – University of the Philippines Los Baños (CFNR-UPLB) through the UPLB Foundation Inc. in partnership with local government units (San Gabriel, San Juan, Bacnotan, San Fernando City and Bagulin) within Baroro Watershed, provincial government of La Union, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and Fostering Education & Environment for Development, Inc. (FEED).


Program of the Participatory Watershed Management Workshop, 4 July 2018, San Juan, La Union

The key findings of the project were presented by the UPLB team in line up for the community based recommendations, commitment and expressions of support at the end of the workshop meeting, attended by Mayors and other government officials from La Union province, civil society, DENR, FEED and other private business owners.

Where there was once fresh water to drink, is now toxic waste that stinks*,” is a reality for many communities in the Philippines, particularly those living in remote areas experiencing extreme heat sometimes near drought conditions during summer,  extreme rains and flooding from upland (due to denuded or over developed land use) and rampant coastal and river pollution during the typhoon season.  *(Source: The Lie We Live, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNVZ0ZPfE8s)

Extracts from the Policy Brief and Workshop Meeting


Hon. Francisco “Kit” C. Ortega, Jr., Chair of Environment for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP), La Union Province

Resonating with the opening remarks delivered by Hon. Francisco “Kit” C. Ortega, Jr., Chair of Environment for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP), Kit mentioned how as a child, everyone used to be able to drink from the river, but now – you just wouldn’t dare to.  Partly because it is evident that it is unclean, but also because there was a lack of updated (and communicated) technical data on water quality, watershed status, land use and related ecosystem information on services to the community.

Baroro Watershed La Union Location Map.png

Land Use Map – Baroro (Lon-oy) Watershed

Baroro River Watershed is locally known as Lon-oy, located in the northeastern part of La Union province, encompassing the municipalities of San Gabriel, San Juan, Bagulin, Bacnotan and Santol, and San Fernando City.

It spans 19,486 hectares and is the main source of water for both irrigation and domestic purposes in all covered municipalities and cities, except for Bagulin and Santol.

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood in the watershed area.

Key Messages from the Workshop

  • Baroro Watershed has undergone significant degrees of fragmentation from 1988 to 2015, notably from agriculture and urban expansion, that resulted in increasing spatial heterogeneity and decreasing size of contiguous areas in the watershed.
  • While no direct evidences were obtained that related the fragmentation of Baroro Watershed to the quantity of its ecosystem services, particularly in agricultural production, water quality in the Baroro River was noted to exceed the DENR water quality guidelines for nitrogen and phosphorus, indicating heightened pollution from agriculture, as well as for total suspended solids, indicating the diminishing land cover and presence of precipitates from agricultural inputs and decaying organisms and substances in the river system.
  • Flooding is the climate-related event to which the watershed is highly at risk. This is aggravated by siltation of the river system and expected to worsen with climate change.
  • Barolo Watershed needs coordinated efforts in its sustainable provision of different services and to achieve resilience from climate change and related disasters.
Click each of the images above to read up on the Policy Brief.

What Is Forest Fragmentation and Why Is It A Problem?

Source: https://northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/forest-fragmentation

Forest fragmentation is the breaking of large, contiguous, forested areas into smaller pieces of forest; typically these pieces are separated by roads, agriculture, utility corridors, subdivisions, or other human development. It usually occurs incrementally, beginning with cleared patches here and there – think Swiss cheese – within an otherwise unbroken expanse of tree cover.


Over time, those non-forest patches tend to multiply and expand until eventually the forest is reduced to scattered, disconnected forest islands. The surrounding non-forest lands and land uses seriously threaten the health, function, and value of the remaining forest.

Any large-scale canopy disturbance affects a forest, but it is important to distinguish between a forest fragmented by human infrastructure development and a forest of mixed ages and varied canopy closure that results from good forest management. The former is typically much more damaging to forest health and habitat quality, usually with permanent negative effects, whereas the latter may cause only temporary change in the forest.

The effects of fragmentation are well documented in all forested regions of the planet. In general, by reducing forest health and degrading habitat, fragmentation leads to loss of biodiversity, increases in invasive plants, pests, and pathogens, and reduction in water quality. These wide-ranging effects all stem from two basic problems: fragmentation increases isolation between forest communities and it increases so-called edge effects. When a forest becomes isolated, the movement of plants and animals is inhibited. This restricts breeding and gene flow and results in long-term population decline.

Fragmentation is a threat to natural resilience, and connectivity of forest habitats may be a key component of forest adaptation and response to climate change.

How do we simultaneously mitigate climate change and improve food security? Is there a way for us to provide wildlife habitat while creating jobs? What about better air and water quality?

One key answer: landscape restoration. This occurs through the planting of trees and other vegetation (active restoration), or leaving the land alone to regenerate naturally (passive restoration).

Workshop Highlights (Slideshow)

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Restoring degraded land provides environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, and improved water and air quality. Restoration is crucial to mitigate climate change and is also a key strategy to improve food security and support livelihoods.

While restoration has so far been funded primarily through public finance from governments, this source of money is insufficient today and in the future. It’s important for the private sector to be involved, and this requires that restoration deliver a financial return.

Source: http://www.wri.org/our-work/project/new-restoration-economy

The Way Forward

“While Baroro Watershed may not be considered in critical state yet given that important services, particularly agriculture, are still being delivered by the watershed, it is however displaying significant levels of stress, particularly in the water sector. Hundreds of residents along the coastal areas of San Juan experienced no access to water during the rainy season and for several weeks.

In one of the workshops inducted by this project, stakeholders of Baroro Watershed from different sectors crafted a vision statement that will guide the management of the watershed and promote its resilience despite stresses like climate change:

“We envision Baroro Watershed to be sustainable and a climate-resilient source of water, providing sufficient livelihood and an ecotourism destination in La Union.” 


Fragmentation does not only happen spatially, but also in terms of governance, policies and management. Lack of coordination, particularly among Local Government Units (LGUs) and community members, have led to negative spillover of activities of one group to another, foremost of which is the issue on waste management and water distribution (such as irrigation).

To curb such fragmented approaches and encourage participation in watershed management from the grassroots, the project initiated a holistic and participatory process to manage the watershed, learning from the successful participatory development initiatives from the concerned LGUs.  This is embodied in the participatory undertaking coined “IPON TI BARORO WATERSHED“. It stands for the fish endemic in Baroro River with the same name (ipon), which appears to be an ecological indicator of the river ecosystem health.

IPON Ti Baroro  Watershed will be spearheaded by three barangays across the gradient, namely:

  • Lon-oy in San Gabriel (upstream)
  • Cabaroan in San Juan (midstream)
  • Baroro in Bacnotan (downstream)

All noted the diminishing services of the watershed particularly

  • freshwater production
  • soil productivity
  • biodiversity
  • food and raw materials
  • cultural services.

Related Links

Contact FEED

FEED runs a number of Students and Volunteers for the Environment (SAVE)Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – such as mangrove planting for coastal protection or ridge reforestation plantings; One Child, One Tree; Bio-Intensive Gardens (BIG) for nutrition in public elementary schools and other spaces; Climate Change Survival 101 and other LIVING LEGACY programs – customised environmental engagement activities for individuals and organisations interested in contributing to climate change adaptation efforts and greening critical areas such as watersheds, ridges, and reefs that all require rehabilitation.

Contact us at FEED for more details or to get involved in our land restoration efforts: info@feed.org.ph or call/text +63 (0)917 552 4722.

© FEED, Inc.