Community-Scale Water Sovereignty: Part I

As part of a mini-series examining best practices in water resilience at the home and community level, this post spotlights three stories of traditional community-managed water systems in Indonesia.

Muntilun, Central Java

A young artist and organic farmer, who grew up in Jakarta, recounts the water management systems in his father’s village in Muntilan, Central Java in the mid-1900s.

Left: A water runoff and defecation fishpond in Bali built by a Javanese farmer, characteristic of traditional water management systems in Central Java. Right: A pond in Bali used to store and filter water runoff, built using an adaptation of traditional methods: clay, manure and rice husk mixed with cement.

Wonogiri, Central Java

In the dry mountaintop fields of the village of Giritirto in Wonogiri, Central Java, residents continue to farm corn, soybeans, rice, and tobacco in rotation, following the traditional Javanese planting calendar, as they have always done. An underground cistern collects and stores runoff from the land in the rainy season, and the community directs the water towards different fields on a rotational basis during the dry season.

Left: A sign above the cave, illustrating the workings of the solar-powered pump. Right: the adjacent mountaintop fields in Giritirto.


Bali’s iconic rice terraces are sustained by a thousand-year-old network of irrigation canals, weirs, and tunnels, and by a social system that democratically apportions water to rice terraces and fields throughout the island. This system, the subak, is at the heart of Balinese culture.

Junction boxes along the major irrigation channels direct water flow to rice fields. Photo: Beat Foundation
Tirta Empul, one of Bali’s largest and holiest water temples, through which subak water passes on its way to fields downstream. Photo by Burmesedays on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The Babahan Subak Association in Tabanan, Bali, maintains a gathering site in the rice fields for visitors to learn about the history, culture, and practice of the subak system. The structure is built above a fish hatchery pond to demonstrate that buildings need not take agricultural land out of production.

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