Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post, Magelang, Central Java
With rivers running dry or being reduced to just a trickle every dry season, the residents of nine rural subdistricts in Central Java are working together to manage a spring to meet their clean water needs.
The project is being managed independently by Dharmo Warih Tirto Lestari cooperative, with the aim of serving 10,000 families in Kajoran district, Magelang, Central Java.
A water distribution network is being built to channel the water from Sigandulan spring to the households.
To cover the cost of providing high-quality water, customers have to pay fixed rates. The rates are, however, lower than those set by the regional water utility (PDAM).
The new service connection charge is Rp 650,000 (about US$71), much lower than the Rp 1,600,000 PDAM charges.
PDAM customers pay Rp 800 per cubic meter for the first 10 cubic meters of water. For more than 10 cubic meters, the rate is Rp 1,000 per cubic meter.
Residents who use the services of the cooperative will have to pay a Rp 2,500 monthly administrative fee and Rp 650 per cubic meter for the first 10 cubic meters of water. From 10 cubic meters, the rate is Rp 800 per cubic meter. Public facilities like mosques and low-income households have free water access.
The nine subdistricts the cooperative will serve are located along the Tangsi River, which starts at Potorono hill, Kajoran, Magelang, where Sigandulan spring is located.
"We hit on the idea of managing our own water because so many residents experienced water shortages during the dry season," said cooperative chairman Hery Subrastawa, who initiated the water project.
Even though the quality and quantity of the spring water is sufficient, residents continue to experience water shortages due to the lack of water infrastructure as the spring is located far from their homes.
The village located closest to the spring is Sukorejo and next to it is Krumpakan. The other villages are Mangunrejo, Sambak, Madukoro, Bambusari, Kwadran and Wonogiri, which is the farthest village away from the spring at 15 kilometers away.
Herry, the head of Sambak subdistrict, said the spring had the capacity to discharge 25,000 liters of water per second. If the water was channeled properly to the villagers' houses, there would be enough for everyone.
To channel the water, 10 reservoirs have been built, along with a piping system to deliver the water to the end users.
"By the end of September, all the subdistricts were connected to the running water system," said cooperative head Yuna Elia. In September, the first phase of water distribution to households began. In this phase, the cooperative connected 1,000 households to the water distribution network.
The provision of free water for the poor is in accordance with cooperative regulations, which stipulate that the water management should focus on public interests and that the revenue should be partly spent on community welfare improvement.
Herry said he first had the idea of managing the water service independently in 2004. But it could not be implemented right away due to a lack of human resources and villagers' skepticism.
"To the villagers, it was not a grand idea, just an unrealistic pipedream," Herry said.
"For three years, we familiarized people with the idea and convinced them we could do it," he said.
Another problem, according to Herry, was the lack of technical skills.
"We knew nothing about water management. But we were not lacking in confidence. We simply made sure our technicians had access to knowledge and training," he said.
The installation of the pipes was financed by the Public Works Agency. Other facilities were supported by third parties like non-governmental organizations.
Another important aspect of water management is environmental conservation. "Good water management does not only mean distributing the water and charging low rates. It should also include environmental conservation. "We did our best to find out about environmental conservation by reading books and asking experts," Herry said.
Cooperative regulations stipulate that 2.5 percent of the revenue should be spent on environmental conservation efforts. Today, he said, the conservation activities are focused on reforestation.
The conservation measures are being taken in cooperation with Environmental Service Program, a Yogyakarta-based non-governmental organization that tries to empower the community so that it can carry out the activities independently. "This is evolution. An evolution in ideas about community empowerment," said Akbar Ario Digdo, the NGO's public outreach and communications officer.
Akbar said the NGO ran workshops on environmental conservation, inviting people living in the subdistricts to make comparative studies in other areas. "The awareness, creativity and willingness of the people is our most valuable asset," he said.