Mountain springs are the lifeblood of the majestic rice terraces of the northern Philippines, but keeping the emerald stairways to the clouds fit for tourist eyes sometimes required the spilling of blood.
Carved from the sides of towering peaks, some of the plots had gone untended over the past decade as tribes of Igorots, the hardy descendants of headhunters, fought deadly battles for control of the precious but diminishing water sources.
But following a truce in April, the irrigation canals have since been flowing again into the terraces on either side of the mountain, just in time to save the dry-season crop of aromatic upland rice.
"We could have avoided this war," says Domingo Kally, the 64-year-old president of the irrigation cooperative of Fidelisan village on the outskirts of the tourist town of Sagada, some 1,212m above sea level.
"If only they had had more respect for the boundaries laid down by our forefathers," he says, reflecting on the long and destructive conflict with the village of Dalican, across the mountain to the east.
The water war had simmered since the 1990s as the Dalican folk dammed up the stream to divert the water to their village, leading to several killings, says Ben Mangacheo, an official of the government's National Irrigation Administration.
Living isolated lives amid moss-covered pine forests, the Cordillera peoples wielded battle axes until World War II and though the days of the grisly practice of headhunting are long gone, the warrior tradition dies hard.
Against Dalican "we used guns," says Kally, standing over an irrigation canal that bisects the village of galvanized iron-walled farm homes that sit on a ridge.
Below lie the terraced plots, festooned with scarecrows to drive away seed-eating sparrows.
The Cordillera mountain range serves as the headwaters for eight major river systems that irrigate farms and provide tap water to the northern Philippines.
But forest fires and land conversion into farming or cattle pastures has dried up some aquifers, says government forest ranger Alex Macalling, who is supervising a 6,150-hectare reforestation project funded by a loan from the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB).
"It has been said that this new century will see a crisis of water, and that wars may even be fought over water," ADB vice president Shin Myoung-ho has said.
In Cordilleras blood has already been spilled, but the April truce saw a compromise with Fidelisan's ownership of the springs that feed the stream being recognized by the Dalican who in turn were guaranteed a share of the water.
"The Fidelisan people agreed to share because three of their people had been taken hostage. After the peace pact the Dalican people released the hostages," Sagada Mayor Robert Baaten says.
The local governments decided early on that the dispute was beyond the scope of formal law. The municipal governments steered clear of the conflict after a warning by the village elders of both tribes, and no one was prosecuted for the killings.
The quarrel mirrored another bloody, long-running boundary dispute between the villages of Butbut and Betwagan in the northern Cordilleras, and to a lesser degree, Sagada's own longstanding disagreement with the neighboring Besao town over tap water access to a tributary of the Abra river.