Hopes of infrastructure development rest on the Citarum River. During the New Order era, there was a plan to develop hydropower plants in nine locations along the river. There was even a plan to develop a hydropower station in Citarum (Kompas, Aug. 9, 1980).
Long before that, Dutch irrigation expert W.J. van Blommestein planned to develop 17 rivers in Java, including the Citarum. Van Blommestein’s plans are well documented in his working paper titled “A Federal Welfare Plan for the Western Part of Java” (1948).
Decades later, what infrastructure has been developed along the Citarum River?
“Ceremonials, somber speeches and champagne. This was witnessed by hundreds of people. However, those who have constructed it for years, those who devoted all their love and ingenuity to the work, had a different picture. This end point of merriment was only the beginning in their minds. It was true: The real work had yet to begin,” Walahar, 1925, as quoted from the book Water Over Sawah’s, H.J. Paris, 1949, written by C. Swaan-Koopman.
The real hard work was, of course, increasing the productivity of rice cultivation. Before, there had been only one planting period a year. After the Walahar Dam was completed, there could be more than one planting period.
As written on its wall, the Walahar Dam was inaugurated on Nov. 30, 1925. The two-year construction of the dam had been overseen by Dutch hydrologist C. Swaan-Koopman.
According to the book Irrigation History of Indonesia (2004), the Walahar Dam was one of 19 dams in Java that were built in 1920. Four of these dams were constructed in West Java, namely on the rivers Citarum, Cipunegara, Cimanuk and Cilutung.
The Walahar Dam supplies water for 87,506 hectares of rice field – equal to around 1,000 times the size of the National Monument (Monas) square in Jakarta.
Constructed in 1965, the Curug Dam splits the Citarum River into three channels, namely the Central Tarum, West Tarum and East Tarum. The Central Tarum is the original Citarum watershed area. The West Tarum stretches 68.67 km to Jakarta and the East Tarum stretches 67.37 km.
The West Tarum channels water from the Citarum River to Jakarta, the nation’s capital. It is also designed to supply water to 56,628 ha of rice fields
The East Tarum channel, on the other hand, supplies water to 90,230 ha of rice fields. The East Tarum caters to farmers in Karawang, Subang and Indramayu regencies.
In 1939, Van Blommestein thought about how to convey water from the west all the way to the east on Java’s northern shores. Blommestein planned to use hydraulic pumps powered by the water current (Book: Portrait of Construction Services in Indonesia: An Aligned Approach, 2010).
Professor Sedyatmo then modified the idea by creating a new design of hydraulic pumps. This new design is unique in that the tilt of the pumps is changed to 45 degrees, resulting in more power to feed water into the main channels.
“The general structure of the pumps is very conventional and, without a doubt, this turbine-pump installation is the most important of its kind in the world,” L. Puyo, the director of French company Neyrpic, said when studying Sedyatmo’s design (Kompas, Oct. 29, 1966).
The winner of the project tender is Ferrostaal AG from Essen, Germany. Unsurprisingly, the loan for the water pumps was later obtained from Germany (or, at the time, West Germany).
“I have a message to all laborers, in that hopefully all laborers give all their energy to the implementation of this project. Please remember that this project does not belong to just one capitalist, but it is a project of the state, of the people, of all of us,” said Indonesia’s founding father Soekarno when visiting the Jatiluhur Dam construction project on September 19, 1965.
From his speech, it was apparent that Soekarno wished for speedy completion of the Jatiluhur Dam, as it was key to increasing agricultural productivity as well as to reducing floods and fulfilling raw water needs.
Designed by Van Blommestein in 1930, the Jatiluhur Dam irrigates 8,300 ha.
Jatiluhur was first designed to supply water to 517,240 ha of rice fields. However, when President Soeharto inaugurated the dam on Aug. 26, 1967, only 240,000 ha of area was left. It was a significant reduction, but it remained vast and in prime condition.
Apart from serving as a source of irrigation water, Jatiluhur also supplies water to a 187-megawatt hydropower plant.
President Soeharto said that Jatiluhur, which today remains the largest dam in Indonesia, was the fruit of Indonesian national labor. “This giant structure is the manifestation of mutual assistance between the government and the people. It also symbolizes the cooperation and friendship between the Indonesian and French governments and people,” Soeharto said when inaugurating the dam.
Jatiluhur’s construction was funded by a US$130-million loan from France as well as domestic funding of Rp 50 billion in old currency and Rp 50 million in new currency. For comparison, the price of a new 1967 Holden was $2,000 or around Rp 280,000
Cirata Dam began operating on March 23, 1989. The dam irrigates 6,200 ha of land, and the government relocated 10,100 families. Water in the dam is used to power a hydropower plant with a total power of 1,008 MW, or 8 x 126 MW.
The Saguling Dam began operating on July 24, 1986. The dam irrigates 5,600 ha of land, and the government relocated around 3,709 families. Water in the dam is used to power a hydropower plant with a total power of 700-1,400 MW.
Hundreds of hectares of rice field in Karawang regency, West Java, were hit by flooding from the Citarum River several years ago. Questions arise. There are three large dams in Citarum River, namely Jatiluhur, Cirata and Saguling. Why were these dams ineffective in preventing flooding?
Now, for the sake of the future of tens of millions of people in the Citarum watershed area, infrastructure is being improved. The Public Works and Public Housing Ministry continues to design and construct new infrastructure, including river restoration, retention pools and tunnels.
The question is that, is infrastructure the only solution for flood prevention and river management? Are rivers only controllable by infrastructure? How many billions or trillions of rupiah must be disbursed for this?
Infrastructure development should have been calculated thoroughly. Better not to build dams, for instance, on a river with a heavily damaged upstream region and severe erosion. Better not build irrigation culverts without assured water supply.
Besides, the role of citizens in protecting rivers must be improved. Without people’s involvement, infrastructure development will be in vain.