Last year, we went to my brother-in-law’s hometown in Nueva Ecija. We took advantage of the Holy Week break and explored the town as much as we can. After dropping off in Gapan, we went to visit some relatives in Peñaranda, Nueva Ecija. Here, we came across an interesting site. We passed through a narrow concrete bridge and saw a fully-functioning dam, the Peñaranda River Irrigation System. Luckily, I managed to convinced my family to check and visit the site before we head back to Gapan.
Irrigation has been practiced in the countries for centuries. It can be traced back during the Spanish occupation when large estates developed a network of communal irrigation system to help out farmers. . The Peñaranda Irrigation System in the Philippines stands as a shining example of how innovative irrigation infrastructure can transform arid landscapes into thriving agricultural hubs.
An old photo showing the Penaranda dam. Credit: Kasaysayang Nueva Ecija
Nueva Ecija is the home of some of the bigger dams or irrigation systems in the country. Few of them includes the famous Pantabangan Dam which is considered one of the largest in Southeast Asia and is one of the cleanest reservoirs as well. It was completed in 1974. Just recently, another dam project was completed, the Upper Tabuating Dam in General Tinio, Nueva Ecija. The project was completed in 2020, boosting the rice harvest of the province.
Peñaranda River Irrigation System may not be as huge as the aforementioned dams but it managed to withstand time and still serves its purpose. The Irrigation system is located in San Josef, Peñaranda. The construction of the dam began in 1925 and was completed in 1930, making Peñaranda River Irrigation System not just one of the oldest but also one of the largest dams in Luzon.
The Peñaranda River Irrigation System is supervised and administered by the National Irrigation Administration -Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation Systems (NIA-UPRIIS), a government-owned and controlled corporation primarily responsible for irrigation development and management in provinces like Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, and Tarlac.
The main source of supply for PenRIS or the Peñaranda River Irrigation System is of course the Peñaranda River which is probably best known for the Minalungao National Park. The Peñaranda Irrigation System, located in the province of Nueva Ecija, is one of the Philippines’ largest and most successful irrigation projects. It was initiated in the late 1960s, during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, to address the challenges posed by water scarcity in the region. The primary objectives of this project were to improve agricultural productivity, alleviate poverty, and ensure food security for the country.
The heart of the Peñaranda Irrigation System is its extensive canal network, which spans over 24,000 hectares. This network draws water from the Pampanga River and redistributes it to the farmlands of Nueva Ecija. As of 2020, the dam is still meeting its water supply, serving 15,806 farmer-beneficiaries in three provinces, the Peñaranda Dam caters one city and six municipalities, namely: Gapan City, Peñaranda, Cabiao and San Isidro in Nueva Ecija, San Miguel and San Ildefonso in Bulacan, and Arayat and Candaba in Pampanga.
Photo: Gandang Nueva Ecija
Aside from being an excellent aid to farmlands, the Peñaranda River Irrigation System is also popular among tourists especially during summer. During its heyday in the 80s, the site has become a popular place to shoot various movies.
Here’s an intimate scene of actor Dante Varona and his leading lady in the movie Patron (1988) showcasing the beauty of the Peñaranda Dam. There’s also a White Castle Commercial starting the young Lorna Tolentino with the Peñaranda dam on the background.
It is interesting to note that the Peñaranda River Irrigation System went through a rehabilitation last 2019. An Eco Park was constructed thru the DILG Performance Challenge Fund (PCF) program. These includes the construction of cottages along the river, allowing locals to bond with their families while enjoying the beautiful view of the river.
When the water is not too high, locals used to swim in the river. We managed to see a group of kids enjoying the water of Peñaranda. It may not be as beautiful as before (like what most people describe it) but it is surely worth visiting.
After all, anyone can access the Eco Park with no charge.
While the Peñaranda Irrigation System has been a remarkable success, it faces ongoing challenges such as maintenance, siltation, and climate change impacts. To ensure its continued effectiveness, modernization efforts are needed, including the incorporation of smart irrigation technologies and sustainable water management practices.
This post is part of my Nueva Ecija Escapade series. Feel free to revisit my previous entries here:
- The Peñaranda River Irrigation System in Nueva Ecija
- Saint Francis Church of Peñaranda Nueva Ecija
- The Church of Gapan
- San Isidor Parish of Gapan Nueva Ecija
- Santa Elena Parish of Gapan
- Farm Villaronte of Nueva Ecija
- Tagpuan sa Lumang Gapan
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