Finding Solutions To Bali's Water Crisis Water and green growth By Polly Christensen

Rapid population growth combined with uncontrolled development in Bali is likely to lead to a serious water crisis on the resort island. Bali is facing a potable and clean water crisis as resources are drying up and over-development in south Bali puts pressure on the existing supplies. In almost every coastal area the over-exploitation of groundwater resources is contributing to diminishing water resources. Seawater intrusion entering ground wells exacerbates the condition.

Deforestation and illegal logging activities occurring in the nearby Bedugul forest conservation site, one of Bali’s most important water catchment areas, has gradually reduced water resources in the three lakes. Shortage of clean fresh water and lack of infrastructure to supply water to dry areas is causing hardship.

Many are predicting Bali will experience a water crisis by 2015, particularly in the southern areas of the island including Badung and Denpasar. Based on surveys with the hotels and communities in Nusa Dua, the government has not been able to provide a reliable water supply. When PDAM water is not available, the majority of existing hotels use groundwater, which many believe to be unsustainable. In addition, several new hotels are under construction.

The Bukit (meaning hill in Indonesian) is an arid part of Bali with very little agriculture due to the unfavorable soil and climate conditions there. Some hotels such as the AYANA Resort and Spa, Jimbaran have created their own wells and recycling plants. However, because the bukit is located on the cliffs, wells are extremely deep and most properties without the funding to dig such wells and set up recycling plants must daily truck the water in from Denpasar.

I recently spoke with Ed Linsley at the AYANA and Erik Desormeaux from Consolidated Water to establish a better understanding of the water crisis in Bali. With a population which is estimated to reach at least five million by 2025, changes need to be made soon. Consolidated Water have recently setup a company in Indonesia, constructing a 2000 m3 per day seawater desalination plant in the Sawangan area of Nusa Dua.

There are many words for water on the Indonesian island of Bali. Tirtha is the word for sacred or holy water, a key element of the many rituals and ceremonies that are an integral feature of daily life for the majority of Balinese people.

However, there has never been a specific policy on the island on how to best manage this most precious of natural resources. A recent report on Water Equity in Tourism (WET) claims that access to water for Balinese people has been severely affected by the demands of tourism. Rampant development, with little or no regard for environmental stewardship or long-term social impact, has placed an enormous and unsustainable strain on the island’s water supply.

Shallow groundwater and springs are the main sources of water in Bali. Provision of water services in the islands ‘urban areas’ is the responsibility of PDAM’s (Perusahaan Daerah Air Minum), local government owned water utilities. Institutional responsibility for wastewater and sewerage is at the district government level; departmental responsibility varies between districts.

The provision of clean drinking water has unfortunately not yet been taken up as a serious development priority in Indonesia, particularly at the provincial government level. This is a major concern, because lack of clean water reduces the level of hygiene in the communities and it also raises the probability of people contracting skin diseases or other waterborne illnesses.

Domestic sewage, industrial effluents, agricultural runoff, and mismanaged solid waste are polluting surface and groundwater in Bali. The absence of “an established sanitation network” forces many households to rely upon private septic tanks or to dispose of waste directly into rivers. The prevalence of polluted shallow wells for drinking water leads to gastrointestinal infections.

Water issues can vary depending on the area of Bali under discussion. Well water is still the most common water source for the coastal community in Bali. In Badung and Denpasar there are two main issues. The first issue is water quality, especially in areas where well pollution is increasing from leaking underground septic tanks and near the coast where seawater intrusion into wells is increasing. PDAM has a well-designed conventional treatment system; however, they are not designed to remove all pathogens or emerging contaminants of concern. Another growing concern is where leaking pipes ‘draw in’ contaminated groundwater.

The second issue is access. Although plenty of water falls from the sky, there are limited storage facilities to capture an adequate volume to meet demands. Even when there is sufficient supply, there are limitations in PDAM’s treatment and distribution facilities to treat and distribute the water.

The number of top-end resorts has certainly helped seal the islands reputation as a luxury getaway with many boasting substantial water features, private plunge pools, and lush golf courses, some of which require three million litres of water a day to maintain. Meanwhile, village women in some rural areas walk up to 3km every morning to collect a single bucket to share among their family.

Until the last few years, hotels in many coastal areas were able to meet customer demands using PDAM water. Wells were primarily for backup. When several hotels in the same area begin pumping groundwater, it lead to over-pumping which impacted both the community and future water resources, having significant impact on south Bali’s environment. There are, however, a number of hotels that have taken the initiative to act boldly without waiting for legislation.

Ayana Resort and Spa in Jimbaran has initiatives in place to reduce their environmental footprint. In 2011, they were certified as an Eco Hotel by TUV Rheinland Germany following an 18-month audit which included changes to operational processes to further reduce their consumption of water and energy, and introduce sustainability initiatives. In 1996 the Hotel installed two seawater reverse osmosis plants to minimize their impact on the local environment.

“Ayana does not need water trucked in, we are completely self-sufficient. Our waste water recycling system treats all ‘black’ and ‘grey’ waste water for use on our gardens,” explains General Manager Ed Linsley. “We also produce an organic fertilizer from our two sewerage treatment plants. In addition, we use eco-friendly cleaning and laundry detergents, and 95% of all linen is laundered by TexCare Laundry, saving 10 liters of Bali’s limited fresh water supplies for every kilogram of linen laundered.” The resort has also installed eco friendly dual flushing systems on toilets and sensors in washbasins and urinals.

Some hotels are leaders in sustainable operations, reducing fresh water consumption by installing recycling plants,
and implementing clean-up campaigns to reduce pollution levels. However, according to sources, there are multiple hotels that are mixing PDAM water with onsite-recycled water. This water then goes to the taps, showers, pools, and kitchen. This can be sketchy even when there is excellent equipment that is well maintained.

The risks associated with recycled water must be minimised to acceptable levels before recycled water can be used in any specific situation. In most cases, these environmental and health risks can be managed through the level of wastewater treatment or by the carefully managed use of recycled water.

Frequent Questions and Answers regarding Bali’s water supply.
What is desalination?
Desalination refers to any of several processes that remove salt and other minerals from saline water. Salt water is desalinated to produce fresh water suitable for human consumption or irrigation. Most of the modern interest in desalination is focused on developing cost-effective ways of providing fresh water for human use. Along with recycled wastewater, this is one of the few rainfall-independent water sources. Seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) is a ‘reverse-osmosis desalination membrane process’ that has been commercially used since the early 1970s. Because no heating or phase changes are needed, energy requirements are low in comparison to other processes of desalination, but higher than those required for reverse osmosis treatment of wastewater.
Why are hotels trucking in water every day to the Bukit?
The problem varies between lack of pressure (pipes and pumps are either too small or broken) and lack of supply. Water trucks are the only way for some properties up in the hills and on the cliffs to get water.
Is Bali facing a potable and clean water crisis?
Local experts are concerned about the overuse of the groundwater aquifers along the coast. In areas like Sanur, where seawater intrusion occurs more slowly than other areas it will take much more time to reverse the intrusion.
Why does seawater enter ground wells?
This varies slightly in Bali depending on the geology. For example, there is typically a layer of seawater under the ‘freshwater lens’ in Nusa Dua. If you over-pump the freshwater, only seawater is left until more rainwater sifts through the limestone into the seawater again. In other areas like Sanur, there is a natural ‘tug of war’ between the freshwater aquifer and seawater from the ocean. When an aquifer is over-pumped, seawater is pulled into the freshwater aquifer and it may take a long time and rainfall to recover the aquifer back to ‘fresh water.’
How will Bali cope with the population expansion?
An increased water portfolio and improved infrastructure is key. PDAM is evaluating multiple options to increase water supply to the island and has begun a new surface water supply project in Central Bali. The hotels can purchase sustainable and local water from desalination and recycled water sources taking pressure off the south and key groundwater and surface water sources should be maintained for the community and agriculture.
Does the government have solutions?
Among the solutions being pursued by the government is the diversion of water from Unda River in Karangasem in East Bali for use by the populations of East and South Bali. The proposal to utilize water from rivers in the distant northeast automatically begs the question why the waters of the two rivers flowing through Bali’s capital of Denpasar are not used instead? Apparently, the waters flowing down the Badung and Ayung Rivers are sufficiently polluted as to make the exploitation of more distant rivers a more economically viable alternative.

The Balinese government must secure its position as a top holiday destination by taking a leadership role in managing its precious water resources. In the meantime, hotel guests are becoming increasingly aware of the sensitive nature of water issues in Bali. Guest demand should, slowly but surely see an increase in the adoption of better environmental management. Please help to conserve water during your stay in Bali and contact these people to discover sustainable solutions.

Ed Linsley at AYANA Resort and Spa
Consolidated Water Tel: 0361 771 682

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