Pasi Lehmusluoto, dkk

Indonesian lake crisis, a reality?

Pasi Lehmusluoto1, Bambang Priadie2 and Juha Vauhkonen3

1Expedition Indodanau, P.O. Box 717, FI-00101 Helsinki, Finland
2Ministry of Public Works, Research Institute for Water Resources, Jl. Ir. H. Juanda 193, Bandung 40135, Indonesia
3 The Finnish Union of Environmental Professionals (FUEP), Vuorikatu 22A16, 00100 Helsinki, Finland


PROCEEDINGS VOLUME I EDITED BY: Eric O. Odada, Daniel O. Olago, Washington Ochola, Micheni Ntiba, Shem Wandiga, Nathan Gichuki and Helida Oyieke


Despite their small area, the Indonesian lakes store 500 km3 of water, equal to 22-28% of the annual renewable surface water. The inland fisheries catch of 400,000 t/year equals to the South American grasp, standing fourth in the world after China, India and Bangladesh. How a country treats its water resources collectively reflects the successes and failures of the environmental management and policy performance. It cannot be in Indonesia’s interest that incorrect signals of the ecological quality of  its lakes are given. There is enough scientific evidence that the ecological quality of most of the larger lakes can be ranked as excellent, good, or satisfactory. The government’s decisions are usually made in data-poor and knowledge-poor situations, seldom based on scientific facts and adequate ecological understanding. Too often they are also influenced by opinions of local pressure groups with insufficient knowledge and experience. Hardly ever foreign NGOs, which have moved away from the focus of water professionals towards a conceptual framework, have the capacity to specify their initiatives to and leave residual capacity in Indonesia. Such groups support formulation of the Indonesian Lake Vision, a far too superficial concept to guide the central and local governments. Compared to Finland’s water resources management vision of only 67 words, nonetheless, the country is the world leader in the sustainable environment and water resources management. Visions do not stop degradation and pollution of aquatic ecosystems. Investment in healthy inland water ecosystems yields significant health, environmental and economic benefits. Improved understanding of lake ecology can be achieved only by examining the differences in physical, chemical and biotic properties among different aquatic ecosystems. The knowledge-based, predictive lake management builds on improved national capacity to understand the factual extent, causes, consequences, and control of disturbances, reducing uncertainties in lake management, risks in investments, and cost of failures in decisionmaking.

Key words: lake, resources, aquatic, ecology, quality, ustainability


The Indonesian inland waters cover a total of  618,500 km2  (32.6%) of the 1,900,000 km2  Indonesian archipelago, of which 394,000 km2  (20.7%) are peatlands, 119,500 km2  (6.3%) rivers  and floodplains, 16,000 km2  (0.8%) man-made  lakes, 5,000 km2 (0.3%) natural lakes, and 84,000  km2  (4.4%) irrigated areas, which can be considered  as ecologically engineered shallow lakes. There are  over 500-700 natural lakes, more than in any other  Southeast Asian nation. Over 90% of the lakes are  less than 1 square kilometer in area and shallow.  These lakes are located at altitudes from near sea  level to over 2,000 m and 14 of them are over 100 m  and eight over 200 m deep. In the world there are  only 20 lakes deeper than 400 m and three of them  are in Indonesia. There are also nearly 200 multiple use reservoirs (Lehmusluoto, 2005).

The lakes store permanently roughly 500 km3  of  freshwater, the largest volume of lake water in  Southeast Asia, equaling to 22-28% of Indonesia’s  annual renewable surface water resources, while  reservoirs at full capacity hold 5% of the annual river  flow (the full storage capacity is 10 km3). According  to the Agenda 21-Indonesia water was detected only  in rivers, dams and marshlands. In some islands the  water demand already exceeds the available water  resources. Indonesian inland waters are also directly  and indirectly significant in food production. With the  annual inland fisheries catch of nearly 400,000 tons,  which is equal to the catch of the entire South  America, Indonesia stands fourth after China, India, and Bangladesh (FAO, 2005).

The environmental, socioeconomic and cultural  value of the Indonesian inland waters is great.  Though the Indonesian people have greatly  benefited from their lakes, rivers, wetlands and  coastal seas, their ecological integrity and  sovereignty for the present and future generations  have not been properly considered. Usually  hydrological change and augmented point and nonpoint  pollution by nutrients, agro-chemicals and toxic  substances result from watershed modifications of  large settlement programs and urbanization and  from forestry, agriculture, aquaculture and industry.  Commonly, five major aquatic ecological problems  are identified: siltation, eutrophication, acidification, toxification and loss of biological diversity.

However, there are a number of others. Impaired  hydrology and unsustainable water withdrawal, dam  construction, canalization, water diversion and  pollution expand all over the country, altering the  natural flow regimes, affecting water levels, draining  wetlands and disturbing ecosystems. In the densely  populated areas activities are focused on the lowlying  waterfront margins where soils are more fertile,  disturbance of the riparian zones has increased soil  erosion and fluxes of contamination. The total  annual silt transport from the Indonesian watersheds  is estimated at 3,000 million tons (over 1,000  tons/km2/year), among the greatest in the world (Lehmusluoto, 2005).

Nonetheless, the truism of the Ministry of  Environment that severe pollution from pulp, oil and  fertilizer plants threatens most lakes with huge  environmental impact and probability to  environmental disasters (The Jakarta Post, 2005) is  an overstatement. The most serious sources of  pollution, community waste and sewage, were totally  omitted. There is enough scientific evidence that the  ecological quality of most of the lakes can be ranked  as excellent, good or satisfactory (Ruttner, 1931,  Lehmusluoto et al., 1997, 1999). Thus, the  information of severe pollution, drop in ecological  quality and causes of pollution provided by the ministry can be seen as unfortunate misguidance.

Materials and methods

The Indonesian lakes can be divided into two major  clusters by their geographical features and the  clusters into sub-groups (Table 1). Lakes with similar  biological communities in pristine conditions should  be identified for reference, enabling further  comparison of respective clusters and sub-groups.  To manage lakes in the first cluster, which are  generally starting points of rivers or “eyes of the  seas”, the ecosystem approach shall govern the  activities in the lake and the catchment area.

However, these lakes have the advantage of being  in the uppermost tributary and having relatively small  catchment area/lake area ratios. Two exceptions  shall be accepted, Dibawah-Singkarak and Matano- Mahalona-Towuti chains of lakes. Due to the long  residence time of water, chances of recovery of  lakes in this cluster are faint or will take hundreds or thousands of years.

Lakes in the second cluster are expanding and  shrinking floodplains or in lowland areas appendices  of rivers, where they may also form oxbow lakes or  groups and chains of lakes. Such lakes are found in  the lowland areas of Eastern Sumatra, Kalimantan  and Papua. Reservoirs and rice fields are also  included in this cluster. In the lakes of this cluster,  increase or reduction of watershed effects is directly  reflected in their status because water is rapidly  renewed and the lakes could recover in years or tens of years.

In Indonesia, the lake area and usually  unpredictable winds are important driving forces in  the hydrodynamic events in contrast to the  temperate lakes, in which the principal driving force  is predictable seasonal variation in air temperature.  The strong seasonal variation of precipitation may  also have a considerable impact on water dilution  and nutrient supply especially in smaller lakes. The  seasonality of precipitation also essentially affects  such biological events as algal blooms, zooplankton reproduction and fish spawning.

The traditional classification by stratification/mixing  patterns is not adequate in Indonesia. In Table 2, the  major features contrasting temperate and tropical  lakes are emphasized. The tropical lake typology  should base on the rate of metabolism or bioactivity:  the rate of production and decomposition. However,  in the absence of such data, a more relevant  classification is the geographical features: origin,  size, depth and altitude. In addition, factors like  hydrology, water renewal time and irregular mixing  make the management of tropical lakes more  complex and unpredictable than of the temperate lakes (Lehmusluoto, 2003).

In the temperate regions, lake behavior is related to  the rather predictable seasonal changes. In  Indonesia, the irregular meteorological and weather  events govern the limnological processes and the  ecosystem approach is necessary in guiding the  level of management efforts required in the basins. If  the watershed degradation and pollution are  efficiently controlled, rivers, river lakes and most  reservoirs recover rapidly but recovery of the  critically eutrophied or otherwise polluted lakes will  take at least 5-6 times their water renewal time.  Slow “flushing rate” lakes should be put highest in  the management agenda. The average water  renewal time of the world lakes is 17 years.  Comparison of the key characteristics of the  Champlain and Toba lakes clearly show that they  are two entirely different lake types located in two  latitudinal extremes (Table 3). The theoretical  recovery time of Champlain is “only” 15 years but  that of Toba nears 2000 years, though some  changes may be irrecoverable. In general, there is  space for both the watershed and ecosystem approaches.


Watershed, the physical entity integrating hydrology  and ecology of lakes, is generally adopted as the  unit for Integrated Water Resources Management  (IWRM). The IWRM programs shall be locally  adaptive and produce new ideas and innovative  management tools, not to repeat the global  commons. At present, there is a lack of such  programs between researchers, lake managers and  the public at large. Advanced research, continuous  monitoring and impact evaluation integrating all  expected and unexpected but known synergistic  and/or antagonistic effects shall be a mandatory part of all spatial and development planning.

The generalized global frameworks and superficial  visions and manifests of international organizations  and NGOs such as the Lake Basin Management  Initiative (LBMI) (ILEC and LakeNet, 2004) and  Integrated Watershed Management (IWM)  (UNESCO and UNEP 2004) are parts of the holistic  IWRM, which aims at (1) integrating local knowledge  of freshwater and coastal area issues, (2) shifting  focus on self-reliant country and region level control  of water resources depletion, degradation and  pollution, (3) instigating science-based, knowledgedriven  management and policy-making and (4)  practicing more empirical and analytically rigorous decision-making in the environmental realm.

In addition to the decades old common IWRM  culture, LBMI and IWM partly overlap with the  IWRM. Therefore a critical and objective priority  setting evaluating complementarities between  IWRM, LBMI and IWM: (1) IWRM forms a holistic  basin wide integrated watershed – wetland/riparian  ecotone – water body (lake, river, wetland, coastal  area, etc.) management framework with the  objective of maintaining the quantity and good  quality of water resources and ecological health of  aquatic ecosystems, (2) LBMI is a generality and  assumptions-based management initiative which  needs to be adjusted by experts to region and  country level and (3) IWM (ecohydrology and  phytotechnology) is basically a river load issue with  the objective to enhance the absorbing capacity of  ecosystems by changing hydrology and artificially  constructing wetlands or by other means  manipulating ecosystems but first all human-induced pressures must be efficiently controlled.

Lakes, depressions of the earth’s surface, contain  water which is commonly received from rain and the  interacting surrounding landscape or watershed  areas. There are plentiful of lake types and their  actual size, depth and the watershed area/lake area  ratio vary significantly. However, the LBMI discusses  also wetlands. In geography, a wetland is a flat  environment at the interface between the truly  terrestrial and truly aquatic ecosystems, making  them different from each yet highly dependent on  both. Their well being depends on the management of the parent water body.

The LBMI partners send ambivalent messages. The  LBMI mantra is that in spite of the tremendous  geographical, latitudinal and ecological diversity of  lakes in the world, they share some common  characteristics: (1) long water retention time, (2)  complex dynamics and (3) transmissivity.  Nevertheless, the ILEC emphasizes that the  complex dynamics of lakes also argues for drawing  on the best available scientific knowledge and, if  necessary, mounting research programs to obtain  knowledge that is critical to management. However,  a proper conceptual model of these dynamics must  be worked out well in advance of the programs (ILEC and LakeNet, 2004).

First, the long retention time is not a general rule,  varying from days to thousands of years. The world  average is 17 years. For the short retention time  lakes the watershed (basin) approach might be used  but especially for the lakes with longer retention  times, a science-based ecological quality approach,  in which the resilience capacity of individual lakes is  evaluated. Second, the great diversity of types,  complex dynamics and transmissivity are extremely  site specific (origin, latitude, altitude, area, depth,  etc.) and should receive more attention because  global generality is a weak umbrella for sustainable  lake management. As holistic studies are emerging,  requiring especially new biological methods to  evidence the quality of ecosystems, the government  should concentrate on matters regarding quality of  lake ecology and pollution control, i.e. sustainable  development of lakes; (1) characteristics (“anatomy”)  and functions (“physiology”) of the lake ecosystems,  (2) interactions between lakes and their watersheds,  (3) fish and fisheries and (4) runoff, wastewaters and effluents and their impacts.


Professors Franz Ruttner and August Thienemann,  the early developers of limnology, shaped the  concept of tropical limnology in Indonesia in the late  1920s. What formerly seemed self-evident now  becomes a problem because general concepts, as  e.g. “the concept of production and tropic  classification, appear in an entirely new light”  (Thienemann, 1932). This saying also crystallizes  the importance to understand the global differences  and the critical role of science in practical lake  management. There is a high risk to oversimplify the  issues because the present knowledge of tropical  limnology bases on momentary records and  snapshots describing net effects of continuous  processes. Professor Robert G. Wetzel, one of the  world’s most prominent limnologists, expressed  apprehension over superficiality in understanding of  ecological subjects and bibliographic negligence. In  tropical limnology, universal move from basic  structures, concentrations and biomasses to  functional and metabolic aspects is a necessity (Wetzel, 2001).

Relative easiness is perhaps one of the main  reasons to use the general conceptual frameworks  and global visions in lake management. The  dangers of wrong concepts and management  failures are great and may lead to “creative  disasters” in lakes because they may not capture the  physical, chemical and biological processes that  exist in different climatic and hydrological  environments and cannot deal with uncertainty  caused by poor knowledge of these processes and  omission of important variables and site conditions.  They also greatly overvalue the understanding of the  management subjects and falsely generate confidence

The international organizations and NGOs  promoting LBMI and IWM shall bear, together with  their Indonesian counterparts, the responsibility if a  clear consensus of a road map to the knowledgebased  IWRM for lakes cannot be reached in the  near future and lake deterioration advances. One  cause to this is the country’s weak capacity to  evaluate the appropriateness and usefulness of the  foreign-introduced initiatives when the foreign  organizations try to promote and advance their own  institutional interests or interests of some of their  staff members. These organizations usually have  inadequate knowledge of the Indonesian lakes and  unconvincing scientific proof of the positive impacts of the initiatives.

Yet, the LakeNet has reasoned that the evolution of  the conceptual framework for managing lakes is  accelerating. While experts and sound science have  a vital role in lake management, many are now  moving away from a focus on “water professionals”  toward an approach that involves stakeholders  informed with scientific information throughout the  process. The goal is that the LakeNet will bring to  the world of lake stewardship a new set of  collaborative tools that is greatly needed and that  will improve water quality across the globe. Practical  experience addressing lake management problems  is perhaps one of the main reasons that the  conceptual framework continues to evolve (LakeNet,  2005). It may, however, also be an expression of  institutional inability to foster knowledge-based lake management.

In the LBMI, IWM, World Lake Vision and the many  global conventions, the temperate zone bias is  simply “avoided” by including information from a  handful of tropical lakes. It is ever more important to  analyze how the complex matrix of factors of  differences in latitude, geography and lake type  specialize basin management, especially when the  objective of the LBMI was to improve the lake basin  management practices.

The Indonesian Academy welcomed the IWM, or the  ecohydrology concept, as one of the uniting and  prospective tools to manage our water resources  and simultaneously restore the environment  (Lehmusluoto, 2005). However, before  ecohydrological measures can be applied threats of  point sources of pollution as well as non-point  sources from both direct and indirect catchments  must be eliminated (UNESCO and UNEP, 2004).  Originally, ecohydrology focused on understanding  the fundamental processes between riparian  ecotones of rivers in South America and how these  natural processes could be help in water management (McClain, 2002).

Instead of uncritically accepting all imported  initiatives, in the interest of Indonesian people it is  necessary to start debating and questioning them. In  Indonesia, decisions involving the complex aquatic  environments are usually made in data-poor and  knowledge-poor situations, requiring substantial  investment in scientific capacity, reliable data and  sophisticated management culture. The knowledgebased approach builds on the national capacity. With access to the global domain of information it  allows meaningful management objectives and selfreliant  decision support systems to mature,  diminishing reliance on foreign support. It also  allows use of the ecosystem qualities to find and  game with lake specific, results oriented but costeffective management options.

Lakes have been reasonably well known but  presently there is an ongoing shift towards  conceptual frameworks and global visions in their  management. However, how a country treats its  freshwater resources is the single most important  indicator of the environment policy and management  performance because waters collectively reflect the  cumulative effects of successes and failures, brought forward also to coral reefs and coastal seas.

Especially, weak law enforcement allows these  mainly unauthorized hydrological conversions and  pollution to threaten most inland waters and coastal seas.

The Indonesian lake management program must be  outlined by professionals to avoid the basic mistake,  inadequate understanding of the management  subjects. Knowledge-based predictive lake  management radically reduces uncertainties in  results, risks in investments and cost of failures in  decision-making. Substantial investment in scientific  capacity, reliable data and capable professional  supervision and administration in lake management  is the most cost-effective and impact-securing  choice for Indonesia. A strong operational link has to  be established between scientists, managers and  citizens in order to improve and promote the  ecosystem approach based integrative and  predictive lake management at the watershed scale,  because water is an overarching and cross-cutting  denominator of the UN Millennium Development Goals (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).


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Lehmusluoto, P., 2003. Indonesian inland waters: An annotation to empower the management of lakes. Proceedings of LIPI/KIPNAS VIII, Jakarta.

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McClain, M., 2002. The Ecohydrology of South American Rivers and Wetlands. IAHS Special Publication 6, UNESCO, Venice.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Experts say that attention to ecosystem services is needed to achieve global development goals. Available at URL: http:// Article.aspx?id=58.

Ruttner, F. (1931) Hydrographische und hydrochemische Beobachtungen auf Java, Sumatra und Bali. Arch. f. Hydrobiol. Suppl. 8, 197-454.

The Jakarta Post, 2005. Most lakes’ ecosystems in Indonesia under threat. Thursday, March 10, 2005, Jakarta.

Thienemann, A., 1932. Tropische Seen und Seetypenlehre. Ach. Hydrobiol. Suppl. 9, Tropische Binnegewässer 2, 205- 231.

UNESCO and UNEP, 2004. Integrated Watershed Management. UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science in Europe, UNESCO, Venice.

Wetzel, R. G., 2001. Limnology. Lake and river ecosystems. Elsevier, New York.


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