The condition of the Brantas River in East Java is under serious threat of drying up, officials warn, with 54 of its 111 watershed areas damaged or destroyed, mostly due to deforestation.
East Java Governor Soekarwo recently called on all concerned parties, including state-owned water operator Jasa Tirta and state-owned forestry company Perhutani, to reforest the damaged areas, protect the current water sources and create new ones.
He also proposed that both state enterprises set aside their dividends to purchase 100 hectares of highlands in Sumber Brantas village, Bumiaji district, Batu municipality, for reforestation.
“We’re ready to help pay for the lease of a plane to spread acacia seedlings over the area to accelerate the reforestation drive,” Soekarwo said.
He added the provincial administration was committed to protecting the water sources of the Brantas River, which is heavily depended on by people living in the 14 regencies and municipalities through which the river flows.
Data from the East Java Environmental Agency shows much of the river’s watersheds are in critical condition; 925 hectares of these affected areas are located in forests, and 1,899 hectares are outside forests.
The damaged areas, as a result of illegal logging, have caused half the number of water sources feeding into the river to dry up.
Of the remaining water sources, only a few still flow, but at depths of only 20 centimeters, from the usual 1.2 meters.
Soekarwo said the extent of deforested areas had severely silted up the Sutami reservoir in Karangkates, and would affect irrigation and clean water supplies.
“We can’t dredge the reservoir before reforesting the areas,” he said.
Several agencies, the governor went on, had taken steps to deal with the threat. The East Java Public Works Office has repaired the irrigation networks and pumps, while the provincial administration is educating farmers on water management for more efficient farming.
The agriculture office has set aside Rp 650 million (US$62,500) to provide 25 kilograms of rice seedlings per hectare to each farmer facing the threat of crop failure.
An estimated 60 percent of East Java’s population live in areas that form part of the Brantas River basin. The river flows from Batu city, through Malang city, then the regencies of Malang, Blitar, Tulungagung and Trenggalek, Kediri city, Sidoarjo and Gresik regencies, before finally reaching the sea in Surabaya.
The municipal tap water operator in Surabaya gets 95 percent of its raw water supply from the Brantas River.
Ecological Research and Wetland Conservation Agency (Ecoton) director Prigi Arisandi warns the disappearing water sources in the upstream areas of the Brantas River are not just caused by rampant logging, but also large-scale exploitation by bottled water companies in several upstream areas, such as Batu, Trawas in Mojokerto, and Pandaan in Pasuruan.
“The government has no issued any regulations for this industry,” he said.
“As a result, what they pay to government is not commensurate with what they take from nature.
“They only pay Rp 10,000 for 6,000 liters of water, a cut of which is still demanded by village and district officials.”
Prigi agreed with Soekarwo’s proposal that the private sector should set aside part of its profits, or corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds, to purchase land in upstream areas that could be conserved and reforested