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Farmers Suffer as Illegal Water Extractions Remain Unregulated

Excessive water exploitation has lead to the drying up of rivers and paddy fields in villages of Kudus district. Efforts have been taken including the prohibition of selling surface water from Mount Muria but water discharge is yet to improve. Water scarcity in Kudus calls for concerted effort in the conservation of protected forest of Mount Muria.

By Zakki Amali

Amid regulation already took place and permits being revoked, farmers of Mount Muria are still facing difficulties to wet their paddy fields, blaming it to illegal water surface extraction. Local organization considers banning water surface exploitation will not immediately restore springs in the mountain but land rehabilitation. 

Kudus, CENTRAL JAVA. Despite the regulation on banning illegal  extraction of surface water issued in the past year, Kajar farmers of Kudus district, Central Java are still facing difficulties to water their paddy fields.

“Our paddy field, [located] under Colo village, do not have any water, water is used up by  [Colo] villagers there and the water sellers. Our paddy fields dried up and [we] could no longer plant [paddy],” said Sutik, a Kajar farmer told

Kajar village, located about 3.2 kilometers from Colo village in the slope of Muria Mountain, had its water supply from Tambak Lulang river, which is a part of Logung Sungai Juwana watershed.

Despite the issuance of regulation to ban illegal water selling, Sutik stopped planting his own field since 2017. He is currently managing his in-law’s coffee plantation in Colo village.

Muhammad Sokhib, from the Muria Forest Conservation Society, or locally known as Paguyuban Masyarakat Pelestari Hutan Muria, said that there are ten to 15 springs at each of the five valleys of Mount Muria, —  Jurang Kulon, Seluman, Gunturan Ombo, Goa Jepang dan Ngelaren –.

Colo villagers divided themselves into groups of ten to 50 people to extract surface water of the mountain. They use 0.5 inch pipes to deliver the water to five or six houses.

“The closest springs to settlements is one kilometer, the farthest is five kilometers. The groups organized it themselves without intervention of villagers’ officials. [They] set up containers under the springs then channel water using pipes. It [the practice] has been going on since 1990s,” said Sokhib.

Sokbih added that Colo villagers do not apply water distribution system, they rely on the “first come, first serve” scheme.

Consequently, the rivers in the village, including Montel, Kembang and Tambak Lulang, the latter runs through Kajar village, have dried up.

“Montel Waterfall is actually Kudus’ natural touristic site. It’s not qualified as a waterfall anymore, but simply spittle as the water of the river has run out to meet villagers’ demands,” he said.

In March 2017, Sutik and ten other Kajar villagers held a protest by walking 51 kilometers, from the office of House of Representative of Kudus to Central Java Governor’s office in Semarang city.

They demanded officials to ban illegal selling surface water. The authorities acted by issuing a regulation in November 2017, and banned 18 illegal water sellers as they did not have permit from the Pemali Juana River Agency, tasked with water management in Central Java.

“After a year, there is yet to be any [positive] impact from the banning. Paddy fields remained dry. I have requested to cut off the pipes that are still supplying water to the sellers directly from the rivers. The prohibitions are just warning boards. It’s not effective to return water to its ecosystem,” Sutik said.

Hendro, who was granted the permit to extract surface water from 2011 to 2016, denied that the practice of selling water with the grouping system has decreased the water discharges. He claimed that he had heard from villagers’ in his group who are still getting water from the pipes. However, he admitted that he had never measured water discharges scientifically.

Hendro insisted that from the first time he accessed water from Gunturan Ombo spring, located only four kilometers from his house in Colo village, its water discharge remained stable.

Hendro explained further that the group had agreed that water not used by the villagers from his group will be directed to his containers during the night so he can sell the water in bulk in the morning.

“Water keeps running at night to houses. Instead of wasting [water], I direct them to my containers. We start to fill the tanks in the morning,” said Hendro who has been a seller since 2005. Hendro only obtained permit to water surface in 2011 to 2016. His business was sealed as he kept on extracting water surface without permit in 2017.

Gunturan Ombo spring is one of the springs that runs through Kajar village, the neighboring village of Colo, through Tambak Lulang river. Today, the river has dried up due to excessive water extraction.

Based on Pemali Juana River Agency data, in 2017 water extraction of Mount Muria springs by 18 illegal water sellers in three villages, — Colo, Kajar and Dukuh Waringin –, was 15.12 liter per seconds or 16,134,000 liters per month.

“We measure the water flows in the pipes channeling water from Mount Muria to villagers in its slope. We have only measured one period to know how much surface water used illegally by sellers,” said Mujari, Operational and Natural Resources Conservation head section of Pemali Juana River Agency.

Mujari said that the closure of illegal surface water sales from sources on Mount Muria would have an impact on Mount Muria springs infiltration.

“Closing the business will save millions of liters of surface water. From the latest report that we received in July, the closing is still going on,” he said in late of August.

However, by October 2018, villagers said that there are still activities of illegal water selling albeit the ban in place. The water trucks are still operating at noon to pick up water from Mount Muria and transport them to the sellers. Meanwhile, Sokhib said that the effort to ban the water sellers did not immediately improve water sources.

He hopes all stakeholders can address water issues more objectively including the water springs, the community and rivers that are flowing from Colo to Kudus.

“No more pointing fingers concerning the crisis in Muria. We need to sit together to find the solution,” he said. “My suggestion is there should be regulation in the village’s level to regulate water distribution because no one is controlling the water extraction.”


Water Conservation of Mount Muria

Illegal logging in protected forests of Mount Muria has depleted water sources. Based on Kudus District Statistic Agency and Pati Forest Management Unit , protected forests of Mount Muria has declined from 2,000.3 hectares in 1996-97 to 1,289 hectares in 2016.

Hendy Hendro, chair of Muria Watershed Forum, a civil society organization comprises of academics and government institutions of Kudus, Jepara, and Pati districts, said that land conversions of Muria forests have affected rivers and catchment areas.

Geologically, said Hendy, the type of soil layer surrounding Mount Muria is sand tuff, which is similar to clay with low water absorption.

“Water springs are affected by the reduced vegetation cover of watershed areas, increasing land conversions, soil condition, soil type, low rainfall and climate change,” said Hendy.

Data by Pemali Juana River Agency shows, in 2016 at least 125.80 out of 2,662.42 hectares of Logung Sungai Juwana watersheds, located in protected forests of Mount Muria, are in critical condition. Around 39.05 hectares of the critical lands are located in Colo village.

“The function of watershed as water catchment areas in Muria has been declining,” he said. “The way to restore it is by land conservation.”

Since the Muria Forest Conservation Society was established in 1998, Colo villagers have tried to tackle encroachment, through legal action and approach to local people.

“We captured illegal loggers in Colo and handed them over to the police. They cut down lots [of trees]. After that, we went for a more persuasive approach,” said Sokhib, head of the society. 

“We reminded local villagers of the impacts of encroachment to water availability.”

In addition, they also planted the endemic tree, Mranak, a nearly extinct tree caused by illegal logging.

Deputy Administrator of Pati Forest Management Unit, Muhadi said the vegetation density of the protected forest of Mount Muria in Kudus is currently 80 percent or there is still land in protected forests that have no trees.

“However, we don’t see it as critical [lands]. It just means empty [plots] without any trees, In 2017, we plant more than 2,000 seeds of trees not for economic purposes. We will also have forest rehabilitation program by planting in 2019,” he said.

Hendy Hendro, chairman of the Muria Watershed Forum said, vegetation in protected forests must be increased, because it has a positive impact on surface water additives.

“Water catchment areas must be protected. The density must be increased by planting new trees as it will supply more surface water in Mount Muria,” said Hendy.

After the forest encroachment stomp in 1998, Muhadi said there was no large encroachment in the protected forest of Mount Muria. However, there are still cases of small-scale tree loss such as illegal logging. Every year they recorded two to four tree loss.

“Every time we lose a tree, we file a police report. We take great care of the protected forest,” he said adding that there was only one case of encroachment during January to September of 2018. A Kudus farmer cut down five barks in protected forest. His case is pending trial.

“The aim of reporting to the police is to guard protected forest so that there will be no more encroachment,” he said. Ekuatorial.


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