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The Future of Water in Bali

Bali ricefields encroachment

The encroachment of building on ricefields has profound impacts

The Future of Water in Bali

This is part one of a discussion of Bali water problems. See Bali Water Strategies for part two

The future of water in Bali is one that becomes a bit scary when you think about it. All over Bali people are digging deeper and deeper wells to tap into the subterranean water tables that are drying up for a variety of reasons although all to do with development.

Having lived in Australia for most of my life and having seen serious droughts with entire towns being unable to even flush their toilets or have a shower, I am culturally very aware of the significance of developing water strategies.

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Until June 2015 when it closed down, largely due to water shortages, I was involved in a clay tennis court in Petitenget.

Five things that happened with the tennis court.

1. The ricefields around the court that were previously flooded 3-4 times a year to about a height of 10cm using water that came down from the mountains via the extensive channel system, and so soaked into the water table below, are gone.

2. Any rainfall that came was also soaked into the soil and eventually reached the water table. There was no real drainage for stormwater so it was all pretty much absorbed.

3. With the construction of the first hotel which replaced the rice field, some 2000 square metres of soaking land was transformed into buildings or roads which funnelled the water away. If 100 cm of rain falls in a fairly standard ‘rainy season’, that means 200,000 litres of water that is no longer getting into the water table.

Multiply that by the various hotels and houses in the immediate area and you get an idea of how much water is being lost to the aquifier.

4. This hotel also sent down its own well, drawing water for their 15-20 rooms, the swimming pool and the garden as well as their restaurant.

5. The the storm water drainage system was put in place whereby most storm water that used to flood the fields is now shipped out and eventually finds its way to the ocean.

Once, however, construction started on another hotel on the other side, with lots of water being extracted for concrete, and it being the dry season anyway, the well started to dry up, and so periodically there was simply no water in the well, resulting in a dust bowl where the court soon became unplayable. This was a first in the 15 year history of the court.

And this is prior to the water demands of a new hotel with its guests and pools coming on line. Wells have been extended deeper into the water table to try and squeeze out the last drops.

Now the rains have come and there is no more issue with water, at least not until the next dry season.

Observing this made me ponder the impacts of new construction on the Bali water supply.

1. Any area occupied by buildings or roads is no longer available to absorb water.

2. The disappearance of rice fields in the Kuta to Canggu coastal strip also means the disappearance of the channelled water that previously soaked into the water tables, in effect shifting excess water from the mountain areas into the subterranean water reservoirs of the coastal area to be stored for future use.

3. Our more efficient methods of dealing with storm water are also depriving the water tables of water.

4. And of course, with new houses and hotels come huge water requirements that were not there previously. One only has to visit a nicer hotel to witness the profligacy of decorative water use that is unsustainable even though we are in a tropical paradise with a seeming abundance of water.

Bali water system collapse

In effect what we are seeing is the collapse of a water system that has worked very well for hundreds of years. A system that used the water table to store water from the mountains to be pumped out when required.

I understand that the current plan in Bali is to pipe water down from the mountain reservoirs into hotels, restaurants and people’s homes.

Will this be enough, especially as then people will have a disconnect with their water use and its supply?

Probably not, certainly not with the current and increasing trend of installing swimming pools everywhere with no real water use strategy in place.

By Mark O’Brien, November 2014, updated February 2016

This is the first of two articles about the future of water in Bali on this site. See also Bali Water Strategies and Bali sliding into trouble

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Christopher Burns December 1, 2014 at 5:31 pm

This is one the least scientifically written articles I have ever read. Personal testimony, speculation and a tennis court are NOT a case for water problems. And where's the evidence people are drilling deeper wells? 25 - 50 meters (depending on location) has been the standard ever since I've been here. Shallower wells often go dry in the dry season. Not surprising. Not one citation, not one reference to any scientific study. It is irresponsible to publish an absurd article like this. Try doing some research and publish something worth taking notice of.

admin December 2, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Hi, thanks for your comment even if it might be construed as being a bit unnecessarily aggressive. I did not pretend for this article to be a scientific paper, (and given you can find any supporting evidence for any point of view, I think it is over rated anyway to have references, especially when the subject matter is fairly obvious) but I think everything I said is fairly apparent. Just like it is apparent roads need repair, or traffic systems need to be upgraded or floodwaters need managing. (all of which are happening I might add) I think my personal observation and experience, like yours, counts for something, and the fact that everyone I know, including people who have lived here for 20 plus years, are talking about the lack of water and the increased depth of wells that have worked well for many years, that they have had to dig to access ground water. I do not need to read a scientific study, or what might pass for one here, to know that there is a water problem in Bali. It is hardly science or requiring of that much intelligence to know there is a water issue, so I do not know why you are so disturbed. I do not need a scientific study to know that rain falls on the ground and gets into water table, and if there is less ground then less water soaks in. It is also obvious that is water is channelled from the hills to rice fields that then soaks into the ground water also, and if that water is not channelled down it will not soak in. Areas of Denpasar have already had their water rationed so that the tourist strip water supply is uninterrupted. And sorry, that is just anecdotal, my friend's staff reported that, and that was since the rains started. So do you think there is a water problem or not? I am curious which points of mine disturbed you. If you are in possession of some scientific proof then share it. Yes, perhaps there ought to be a study to find out the impact building on ricefields has on the water supply, but do you seriously think anyone is going to fund it? Not the government who don't want to threaten the golden goose (tourism) nor the entrepeneurs who keep building regardless of any environmental impacts. I am coming from an area in Australia where discussions of water tables, of the need for wetlands etc, of all kinds of things previously only discussed coherently by 'authorities', is common place.

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