Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

Serious Water Shortages and Saving Water in Bali

"The Greater Spotted Bali Blue"

Have you noticed? There are no hippopotami in Bali. Strange isn’t it?

Of course there used to be. It is a little known fact that Bali was home to the painfully shy, but rather pungent, greater spotted Bali blue hippopotamus (Hippopotamidae berbausekaliea which, of course, comes from the Greek ?πποπ?ταμος).

Some say that this wonderful animal was so shy that, in the presence of a female, the male would start to stutter uncontrollably. So much so that the female would eventually get totally bored and find something more interesting to do (like washing it's hair). And so it was that the Bali blue died out.

Of course this is not really the case at all. The Bali blue, like any self respecting hippopotamus, liked to wallow in mud holes. They liked to keep their skin supple and soft through the use of frequent mud packs and facials.

It has been lost in the mists of time but in fact traditional healers started collecting the sludge from Bali blue mudholes after people recognised the healing qualities of hippopotamus perspiration which, rather like durian, is great if you can get past the smell. This is, of course, the origin of traditional Jamu, the name of which is derived from the hippopatomus cry of “Jamoo, jamoo” which means “get out of my mudhole you ignominious swine.”

The legendary healing properties of Bali blue mud was a windfall for our beach massage therapists who were finding that Olay Oil was starting to get a tad expensive. Nip over to the mudhole, out with a bucket of mud and Bob's your uncle. Mud packs and body scrubs from Bali blue mud holes became a treatment of choice for the more upmarket spas on the island.

Sadly it was the rapid development of hotels in Bali that was the death nell for the poor old Bali blue. You see the hotels, always looking for a business angle, could see the business opportunities of building spas. They went mad and started building spas all over the island. There was an ever increasing demand for mud to supply the over indulgences of hedonistic holidaymakers who fancied mud packs and facials at any time of the day or night.

Ground water levels fell and, over time, the mud holes dried up. The poor old hippos deprived of their mud packs developed terribly rough skins. The females didn't want anything to do with those coarse skinned males (it was of course the Bali blues that first coined the phrase "not tonight dear, I've got a headache").

No hanky panky - they died out.

Sadly people didn't miss them, they were so shy that no one had ever actually seen one - only a few tell tale bubbles in a mud hole or that unmistakable smell. Did you know that some people don't even believe they existed at all? Those of us who have sampled Jamu certainly know that they did.

Water Tables and Groundwater Levels

In the meantime people starting pumping water out of the ground and groundwater levels have continued to fall.

Sorry if I am teaching granny how to suck eggs (what a strange phrase - I never saw either of my grannies suck eggs) but in a very real and ever worsening water crisis I need to go back to basics so everyone can understand the problem we are all facing.

In the ground below our feet there is water and, rather like a lake or the sea, it has a surface. This surface is known as the water table. Its depth below the surface of the ground is dependent on many factors but, generally speaking, the water table does not reach the surface of the ground. The heat of the sun, the nature of the earth (particularly its porosity), vegetation , sea level and the shape of the ground all affect the depth of the water table beneath us.

If you walk up a hill and ground level rises the water table tends to rise with it. In limestone areas such as the Bukit where the rock is very permeable the water table tends to be considerably lower often deep within the rock. Trees have a double effect, deep roots take up moisture and can lower the water table while the shade that trees provide tend to reduce evaporation.

In rainforests with very heavy vegetation cover the water table may be shallow while in other places trees with deep roots can lower the water table. In Western Australia the excessive removal of trees has lead to rising of water tables bringing salt to the surface from the rock below causing huge areas of salt destroyed land. The answer of course would be to replant large areas of trees before the salinity takes over.

The porosity and shape of soils and rock makes things more complicated but perhaps we’ll think about that another day.

Here in Bali the water table rises during the wet season then falls through the dry season. We are now at the end of the dry season and we are starting to have some serious water problems.

Most of us, including the government water supply (PDAM), get our water from wells and bores. Obviously these must be deep enough to penetrate into the water table. To get clean, fresh water wells and bores need to penetrate well below the water table. You may find that if your well or bore only just reaches the water table you will get brackish or contaminated water. Generally speaking (but not always the case) the deeper your bore the cleaner the water you will get.

Good drainage is causing water shortages

A vital but little understood fact is that good drainage is disastrous for water tables. In cities across Australia people are starting to wake up to the fact that in populated areas three quarters of the land area is covered by road surface, footpaths, roofs and carparks which are drained into pipes which very effectively return rainfall directly to the sea. In addition swimming pools and irrigation (including watering of gardens) considerably increases the rate of water evaporation. Not surprising that under the cities the water table is falling.

Here in Bali, a place we all take for granted as being lush and green, we are starting to suffer similar problems. Too many people are taking too much water out of the ground and returning it directly to the sea.

This situation has been exacerbated in recent years by improved drainage and increased evaporation from pools and garden watering. Another lesser recognised source of water loss is the ever increasing use of swimming pool and water filtration equipment that requires regular backwashing which, once again, discharges large volumes of water into drains.

The deepening water crisis in Bali

We are now getting to crisis point. Hotel water supplies are drying up. In places near the sea where too much water is taken out of the ground sea water may penetrate into the water table inland causing salt contamination. I recently inspected a nice old house that in recent years has started to literally fall apart. Situated near the beach, rising damp is depositing salt into the brick and stone work and causing it to crumble. The house can be saved by stopping the rising damp but the reality is that this is a symptom of a much greater problem.

All over the island, particularly in lower lying areas, ground water levels are falling and rivers and wells are drying up.

How can we elliviate the water shortage

So what can we do to ease our impending water crisis?

  1. Most importantly install soak pits to return as much water as possible back into the ground. This can be not only rainwater but also grey water from showers and washing machines. Install large water tanks under houses to collect and save pure rainwater (no calcium, no sewerage or mineral contamination). The overflow from storage tanks should go into soak pits.
  2. Water the garden in the evening or early morning when it is cooler to reduce evaporation rates.
  3. Avoid excessively large swimming pools. Discharge swimming pool backwash water into soak pits.
  4. Check to see if that fancy water purification system is not using too much backwash water and make sure that the backwash water is not going into the drains. Send it to a soak pit.
  5. Install dual flush toilets.
  6. Use reduced flow shower heads.
  7. Plant trees to provide shade and reduce ground temperatures.

Many people may feel that there is little they can do but in fact this is not the case. Most of us pump water out of the ground directly under our house. This is our bit of the water table. By using less water and by returning water to it through soak pits we can all play our part in keeping water tables at healthy levels.

If we are not able to get to grips with our serious water shortage we may well end up like the hippo with a distinct absence of “hap” and disappear like bubbles in a mudhole.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

9 December 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
Jl Bypass Ngurah Rai, Gg Penyu No 1, Sanur, Bali 80228, Indonesia
Telephone: +62-361-288-789, Fax:+62-361-284-180