I Can Feel It In My Water

Water – we wash in it, shave with it, flush our toilets with it, drink it (not in that order I hope), we wash the camel, water the garden, feed the goldfish. Where on earth would we be without the caffeine inducedsanity of our morning cup of coffee? One way or another water starts our day and ends our day.

Like caviar it is such a precious resource but, being so readily available, we do tend to take it for granted don’t we? It is only when we have a problem we start to think about what life would be like living in a desert. Sand, smelly camels, no toilet paper and what little water you have tastes as though it came out of a dirty old goatskin bag (which it probably did) or, if you’re lucky, a muddy pool at the bottom of some deep well. The mere thought boggleth the mind and brings a tear to the eye of any self respecting goat.

Years ago a friend of mine had a problem with his water (we are talking washing here). Every time he washed he felt itchier than a barbed wire blanket. He put up with this for years, then one day he moved house and, surprise surprise, the problem went away. His water had been coming from an open well which must have been contaminated. Wells are particularly prone to contamination from ground water which can quite easily seep through their porous walls carrying septic tank leakage, chicken and pig poo and anything else that lies on or in the ground close by. Bores, on the other hand, are much safer – they have non porous PVC sleeves. Government supplied reticulated water, on yet another hand, is filtered and treated using chlorine and should be expected to be even safer.

Recently, however, an issue came up of a young lady whose water feels slimy and makes her hair fall out. As a result she is just a tad lacking in the contentment department, there is a distinct dearth of happiness in her life.

Eventually in desperation she had the water tested which revealed two vital pieces of information. Firstly the chlorine levels were low and secondly the water was contaminated by coliform.

Contamination of water by coliform and ecoli (both are bacteria found in sewage) is common in Bali and is why you should not drink tap water, don’t clean your teeth in it and, when showering, don’t let it get in your mouth. Built up areas are dotted with septic tanks which may be poorly constructed and/or cracked leading to leakage into the ground water.

Now in this lady’s case slimy water is not to be expected and is of concern because her water is supplied by PDAM – the government water supply which is treated with chlorine to kill bacterial contamination, so we have to ask why would this lady’s water have a low chlorine content and why would it be contaminated?

She also has a problem with low water pressure from the government supply and has had a pump installed to “draw” the water from the PDAM supply (in fact this is not permitted and we’ll come to why shortly).

Let us first consider the PDAM network.

Government water supply in Bali is extensive, stretching across large areas of Southern Bali and supplied by several different water suppliers. The water supply networks are extensive and much of the system is now quite old.

While many people are situated fairly close to a main supply pump and enjoy a reliable supply with high pressure, other people may be further away from the source and may have significant problems.

With many consumers connected to the same water supply network the water pressure will be constantly changing as demand changes. I remember a woman years ago that had a huge problem with her PDAM supply. At 7 o’clock in the morning when everyone on the island is having their morning shower she often had no pressure at all, not a drop of water came out of her pipes, while in the middle of the night with no one using water (apart from the odd middle of the night bladder emptying expedition) the pressure was so great it would burst the flexible hoses to her washbasins.

The water pressure can be affected by a number of issues:


  1. Distance from the water supply pump. Pressure is lost through ‘flow resistance’ in the pipes caused by bends or restrictions such as valves in the pipes that the water must pass through.
  2. Pipe diameters may not being sufficient to carry the water being demanded. As ever more new buildings are built the demand increases but, of course, it is highly unlikely that the PDAM supply network was built to anticipate these much higher rates of water consumption.
  3. Height differences. It’s all to do with gravity really, if some people on the network are at a lower elevation than others they will get ‘preferential’ supply and their water pressure will be greater.
  4. How many people are connected to the network between you and the water supply pump. Every time someone closer to the supply pump turns on a tap your water pressure will drop.
  5. Leaks. There is not a water authority around the world that doesn’t have leaks somewhere in their systems whichresult in loss of pressure.

Perhaps we can understand why it is not permitted to attach a pump to a PDAM supply pipe to pull the water out of the supply. The pump causes suction and in so doing it reduces the pressure in the PDAM pipe which robs supply from other uses.

Let’s get back to our unhappy lady while she still has some hair, she is situated well out of town at the extremities of the PDAM supply network and, as a result, has low water pressure and this may also explain why the chlorine levels are low, probably too low to kill the bacteria.

But where would the bacteria get in?

As we have said reticulated government water systems always suffer leaks. In Bali we have regular earthquakes that can break rigid steel water pipes. You might also have noticed that we are plagued with heavily overloaded trucks that cause damage to roads and to the buried pipes beneath resulting in leakages.

Now leaks can work both ways. Under certain circumstances where the PDAM water pressure is low ground water can enter pipes and, with a high density of poorly built septic tanks in many areas, contamination by ecoli and coliform can only be expected.

So how can we solve these problems? Our client, like many people, does not wish to invest a lot of money. She has rented the house for only a limited period and she doesn’t have a lot of money to spend.

She also travels extensively and may be away from Bali for months at a time. This allows contaminated water to lie in the pipes of her home and the bacterial infection grows.

Sterilising the pipes has worked very effectively as a short term solution however the contamination quickly returns – she needs an effective long term, low cost solution.

The best solution is to install a water tank, this is not expensive. The PDAM water enters the tank through a ball valve so that when the tank is full the supply cuts off. This allows the water tank to fill anytime day or night and so, if there is a fluctuating PDAM supply, the tank will fill when pressure is available. The tank also provides a “buffer stock” of water so that, if the PDAM supply is very slow, the tank can be collecting water 24 hours a day while being able to supply large volumes of water for short durations.

We now install a small supply pump to pump the water around the house, such a pump is also not expensive. If the house has more than one storey we install a separate pump for each floor so that we can have an even water pressure on each floor.

This simple, low cost system isolates her house supply from the shortcomings of the PDAM supply water coming in. She now has total control over her water supply. She will always have a good strong supply of water,she can determine the pressure of the water by adjusting the water pump. She can also add chlorine to the water tank to sterilise the water. Chlorine tablets dropped into the bottom of the tank will last for weeks at a time which means that when she goes away the water is still being sterilised.

She could consider installing a UV steriliser in the water inlet pipe however this has several shortcomings, firstly it does not solve the problems of pressure fluctuations, secondly there is no ongoing sterilisation of the water pipes after the UV steriliser, and thirdly it is probably more expensive than the tank and pump option.


Phil Wilson

Previous “Fixed Abode” articles can be found subject indexed on our website at www.mrfixitbali.com. Opinions expressed are those of Phil Wilson. He can be contacted through the website or the office on 0361 288 789 or 08123 847 852. 


Copyright © 2016 Phil Wilson

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