Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Groundwater abundant but remains unexploited in Gunungkidul

Gunungkidul, which cries for water every year, is rich in water but it is yet to be exploited properly. And the lack of funds is the mother of all problems.

The truth is that Gunungkidul boasts many underground rivers that run all year long, sufficient to satisfy its citizens' needs for water.

Gunungkidul's tap water company (PDAM) has been exploiting four of the rivers, but not optimally.

PDAM director Tjiptomulyono said that an underground river in the southern coastal district of Baron, for example, has a capacity of 1,150 liters per second, but the company's system can only pump out 15 liters per second from it.

"The generator's capacity to pump out water is very limited. It can work for only 10 hours a day at the most. If we force it to operate at full capacity, it will soon break down," said Tjiptomulyono.

The condition of the other three installations was the same, Tjiptomulyono acknowledged.

The four are unable to produce more than 100 liters of water per second in total, although each underground stream has a capacity of more than 1,000 liters per second.

The water from the underground streams in the south are for local villagers. To serve people in and around the capital of Wonosari, PDAM runs three artesian wells and a spring, which has a capacity of less than 100 liters per second.

Running some 100 meters below the surface, according to Tjiptomulyono, the underground streams can be pumped into a reservoir with a powerful generator. From the reservoir, the water can then be distributed to households through the PDAM pipelines.

"It will need a powerful machine to pump water to higher places, which is where most of our potential customers' homes are located," Tjiptomulyono said.

The fact that the generator can operate no longer than 10 hours a day makes it even more difficult for the company to do its job. This also explains why, of the 700 kilometers of pipeline built three years ago in the regency, only 60 percent can actually be used.

Tjiptomulyono said that even with such a minimum performance, the operational cost was high. Each generator requires 65 liters of diesel fuel for each hour of operation. The four generators in the four sub-systems of Baron, Ngobaran, Seropan and Bribin, therefore, need 78,000 liters of diesel fuel a month if they all operate 10 hours a day.

In addition to the money used to finance the operation, PDAM requires another Rp 96 million a month to pay 156 employees, aside from funds for maintenance.

Overhead cost is another expenditure that PDAM must take into account.

"All these costs prevent us from optimally exploiting the underground streams. The irony (of the fact that Gunungkidul has so many underground rivers, yet the people are short of water) is even more glaring in times of crisis like now," he said.

A possible solution seemed to arise very recently when the local administration learned that, in cooperation with a German university, the State Ministry of Research and Technology had plans for a micro-hydro project to exploit the untapped water sources.

"Once it is realized, I believe the water problem will eventually be overcome. Besides, if the turbine-powered facility can operate 24 hours a day, we would be able to save Rp 40 million a month in diesel costs."

Gunungkidul Vice Regent Subechi said if the project materialized, water shortages in the regency would be no more in 2005.

"That's assuming that everything runs as planned," he said.

Although it may be a little too early for the people of Gunungkidul to expect water to come in abundance, news of the cooperation is indeed a ray of hope. -- Sri Wahyuni