Bali's Water Crisis

Asbury 1

Laine Asbury

Bali, Indonesia is known for its beautiful scenery, vibrant culture, and…its lack of water sanitation.  It is the smallest province in Indonesia but the largest tourist destination. Tourism accounts for 60% of Bali’s economy and has helped it grow economically and socially.  Bali’s population is currently at 4.22 million and expected to increase due to the increasing job opportunities available.  But not all is perfect in paradise.  Bali’s growing population and development is headed toward a water crisis, predicted as early as 2025.  The resources that the island can provide are simply not meeting the rapidly increasing demand. 

An analysis of the issues behind Bali’s lack of sanitized water makes it clear that water contamination is not the only problem.  Bali's freshwater resources are declining at a severe rate.  There are several factors at play, discussed below.

The Growing Tourism Industry

The tourist industry draws significant amounts of water, averaging around 3 million liters of water per day.  Public water supply is insufficient, causing hotels to draw significant amounts of groundwater and well water.  Thus, the massive tourism development in southern Bali has excessively exploited the island’s main water resources in the center and north. It is also negatively impacting the agricultural sector.  750 hectares of fertile rice fields are sold off annually to be converted into housing and business developments.  Many of the younger generations are going to work for the tourism industry because with the higher water prices and unpredictable seasons, farming is no longer a profitable option. 

Insufficient Water Infrastructure System

Few residents rely on PDAM, the public water supply, because it only has the capacity to provide them with limited amounts of water throughout the day.   PDAM also lacks the resources necessary to properly sanitize the water.  The government only provides a limited number of water storage units, which is significantly less than demand. Bali also lacks rainwater harvesting units, which is detrimental in three ways:  it increases the impact that rain has on the area and the amount of water cross contamination, and it fails to utilize the amount of fresh clean rainwater that could be used by the communities in Bali. 

Changing Environment

Loss of agricultural land, deforestation, and climate change have dramatically reduced Bali’s natural water resources.  For example, Lake Bayun, which is one of Bali’s largest lakes has decreased by 11 feet since 2000.  Illegal deforestation has taken away the water catchment.  Already 65% of Bali’s rivers have dried up completely in the dry season. 

Water Sanitation

Domestic sewage, industrial effluents, agricultural runoff, and mismanaged solid waste all contribute to polluting groundwater and surface water systems.  Most residents in Indonesia utilize private septic tanks.  The tropical climate of Bali brings a seasonal wet season, which increases the chances of cross-contamination of sewage and drinking water through increased flooding.


Due to the large number of stakeholders involved in this water crisis, it is imperative for the various groups to join together to form a cooperative agreement that will satisfy triple-bottom line sustainability initiatives.  Building relationships among all the stakeholders will help each to individually satisfy their own needs while working towards a common goal. 

Two focus areas are proposed to help move towards a sustainable future. 

First, there is a lack of communication about the water crisis. Raising awareness could leverage the strength of the tourism industry to promote the issue and create corporate social responsibility initiatives that tourists and residents can actively support. 

The primary technical solution available is building more rainwater-harvesting units.  This allows for residents to take advantage of the high level of fresh clean rainfall available. Increasing the amount of water catchments would also decrease the amount of runoff that is occurring throughout Bali.  These units can provide clean water to urban and rural areas in which residents previously had to walk miles to the nearest water source. 

Beginning this research project, the focus was primarily on the water sanitation issue in Bali.  After learning more, the extent of the actual problem became apparent.  Moving forward, it is essential to raise awareness of the declining water levels that are occurring and the impending water crisis predicted. 


Cole, S. 2012. A political ecology of water equity and tourism: A Case Study From Bali. Annals of Tourism Research. 39:2: 1221-1241.