The Future of Water in Bali
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
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