Water filters: Hygiene’s Silver Bullet By Bill Dalton

Enough. I wasn’t going to read another article about Bali’s increasingly polluted water without doing something about it. All over the island the quality of water from ground water wells was declining. We needed an affordable and effective water filter system for our five-room villa in the middle of Tabanan’s rice-growing district and I resolved to learn as much as I could about these curious contraptions.

The water from our 42-meter-deep ground water well on the top of a ridge at an altitude of about 400 meters wasn’t keeping out metals, minerals and pollutants. Fine black sandy grit was spitting out of our faucets and collecting inside drains and showerheads. My wife and I were fed up buying refills for our 19-liter plastic bottles at Rp10-Rp12,000 a pop. Inconvenient, difficult to transport and heavy to lift, we had to literally climb on top of our kitchen counters to insert the bottles into our dispenser.

Sellers of water filters on Bali can also be unscrupulous. There are many pitfalls. They may sell you a much more elaborate and expensive system then you actually need. Or sell you an inadequate system. Use your head. Caveat emptor. It just makes sense that a little device attached to your faucet or showerhead isn’t going to filter out all the impurities. Rainwater can’t be trusted because of all the roof debris it carries with it on the way to your catchment system.

Sometimes vendors won’t match the filter with the appropriate size pump. Other vendors might even install swimming pool filters instead of water filters in your house. Water is a passionate topic and there are a lot of differing opinions and “theories.” The hydrological and engineering terms used are difficult to get brain around. Some sellers swear by the reverse osmosis system, others will only sell UV-filters. When installations are done wrong, companies (after they’ve got all your money) may not come back to correct their work or even return your calls.

After interviewing users, visiting sellers at their offices and showrooms, I came to the conclusion that installing a proper water filter for my house was going to be an expensive proposition and require constant maintenance. Moreover, none of the companies I contacted accepts credit payment plans, though they will install their various systems in graduated pay-as-you-go stages, i.e. first a filter for drinking water, then a water softener system, then a whole house system. Some tips:

Otto Vlach: C.V Air Manis

Asking around among my friends living in the Ubud area about water filters, a name that kept popping up was Otto Vlach who worked in the business five years. I told Otto that in California in the 1980s, I had a filtration system installed under my sink that cost $130, plus $42 every six months or so to replace the filter. He said that he doesn’t have a system as cheap as that, but close.

Otto explained that he brings to the work site (kitchen, pump house, water tower) all the fittings, pipes, equipment and tools, charging customers a “delivery & installation fee “depending on the location and how big the job is. Most house jobs just take one day, so his work doesn’t disrupt the daily family routine. Otto has also worked as a consultant on big jobs, such as Green Village’s multi-million dollar bamboo dwellings.

He sells a number of different water filtration systems from simple under-the-sink affairs and multi-tank whole house filters and a system utilizing a UV-Sterilizer (a tube quartz lamp inside a stainless steel cylinder) that sterilizes water. If the water is very hard like in the Bukit area – the hardest in Bali – he also strongly recommends a water softener system.

“The most popular system I install is a FRP-10-54 “Merlin” Reverse Osmosis Filter with a capacity of up to 3800 liters per day – more than enough for the needs of 4-8 people in one house. This system produces the best-tasting and cleanest water possible, as low as 004 ppm. It can filter “organics” like herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. The flow rate is 2,700 liter per hour.”

 

Otto visited our property and noticed red orange colored substances in the earth, indicative of iron in the soil, probably from volcanic eruptions. Iron is a helpful mineral in very small quantities but can ruin machinery, color the laundry and is bad for health if digested in large concentrations.

Otto doesn’t do any advertising but relies on the satisfaction of his clients who recommend him by word of mouth. “I do my best,” he smiled. “I’m a typical German, I’m thorough. I make sure that the job is done right.” He gives a three-month warranty on his work and one year on equipment. Otto can talk endlessly, knowledgeably and enthusiastically about his products. He has a good attitude. (“I’m learning everyday.”) And he has the Teutonic thing going for him. Address: C.V. Air Manis, Otto Vlach (owner), tel. 0361-977541, hp 081-337-104-737, email: balispirit@yahoo.de.

Robbie of Smart Energy

Robbie is a busy man. His company Smart Energy is at the top of every Google search when you’re looking for a water filter on Bali. “I’ll filter your house, I’ll deal with grey water, I’ll take care of septic wastes,” he told me as I sat in his upstairs office at Istana Kuta Galeria just around the corner from Ace Hardware.

Robbie has a degree in Thermo-Fluid Dynamics Engineering but now he’s really into water. “For four years now I’ve been lucky doing something I’m passionate about.” I marveled at the way this energetic man, with an engineer’s twinkle in his eye, grew rapturous over TDS (Total Dissolved Solvents) and ppm (particles per million).

“Water is our life source. We can go without food for five days but try to go that long without water. Water has a very complex bio-chemical structure. Any mechanical process can alter it. That is why I prefer treatment at the source, which keeps the molecules intact. You have to take it out of the ground, process it, filter it and then transport it. That’s a big carbon footprint just to put water into a small plastic bottle.” 

I asked how do I go about getting him to put in a filter system for our house. “First I want to know what I’m dealing with. You need to have your water tested and get me the results within two days. Or you can give us your water and we’ll get it tested for you.” Robbie then looks at the results, then sends you a quotation to see if my estimate is within your budget.”

The first step for many of his customers is to get drinking water into the house. There are a lot of options. “The RO system produces distilled or “dead” water. You need to drink water to rehydrate but this method strips the water of all the good stuff. The RO filtration system I sell lets beneficial minerals through. It’s point of use system, costing only Rp2-3 million, and is installed under your sink. The clean water is dispensed from a separate sink-top tap.”

“If you opt for one of our automatic whole house systems for clean bathing water, it costs Rp8-9 million. That can be reduced by Rp2 million if you use a manual system. I give a three-month service and 5-year guarantees on tank, 1 year on controller head. To do additional service or clean (backwash) your system, I charge a flat Rp150,000 per hour. If you live very far out, I have to charge travel time.” The phone was ringing. It was a client on a job he was doing in north Bali. “Up there,” he said, “you have to take everything to a job. Try getting a non-return valve in Singaraja.” Address: Smart Energy, VL 19, Istana Kuta Galeria, Jl. Patih Jelantik, tel/fax. 0361-769-012, hp 081-139-4637, email: Info@Smart-Bali.com, website: http://smart-bali.com. Hours: 10 am- 5 pm.

John Nicholas: P.T. Solar Power Indonesia

John’s company is an example of an entrepreneur who sells water filter systems as a profitable sideline to a number of renewable energy systems (solar, wind, hydro, etc.). “Our business concentrates on different forms of renewable energy technologies and therefore we only offer one small cartridge filter out of a whole range of products.”

The cartridge filter, selling for Rp1.5 million (without installation), is cheap and suitable for small applications. The compact design allows the unit to be installed neatly and conveniently under your sink. With the turn of an on-the-counter tap, you will get a supply of clean, refreshing drinking water. The filter (media) needs to be replaced every 6 to 12 months depending on use.

I asked John how much wastewater does the system create? “The only water that you waste is when you change the filter. How much? “The cost depends on what is required. We often design specific systems for clients. Therefore there is no set cost. Does the system require professional installation? “All filter systems benefit from professional installation. My cartridge filters, however, can be done by anyone.” Address: P.T. Solar Power Indonesia, John Nicholas, Jl. Sunset Road 18 X, tel. 0361-778-802, email: john@solarpowerindonesia.com, hp 081-747-26485 website: www.solarpowerindonesia.com.

Troy Lowrie: Starfish Bali Water Purification 

Now for the serious high-capacity filtering systems. When I asked Troy Lowrie what systems Starfish sells, his answer was surprising. “We don’t sell our systems. We license clients to use the technology and charge a TAF (Technology Access Fee) that depends on the size and number of purification units required.”

“We custom build the systems for each application. Our average client uses about 1500 liters per day. This system doesn’t require much energy, can be installed with low capital outlay – US$185.00 per month – and has low service and maintenance. The TAF is valid for 8 years.”

“We also have a home/villa unit capable of treating up to 10,000 liters per day. A small estate complex of between 4 and 6 villas would benefit from this system because it costs only $599.00 per month, a very cost effective means for collective water treatment. Our large commercial systems have an even higher capacity – up to 650,000 liters per day. The most recent client to use our technology is Discovery Kartika Plaza Hotel which can now recycle approximately 250,000 liters of high quality water per day.”

“The Starfish system, using a combination of Ozone and UV disinfection, is the world’s most advanced and efficient water purification technology. Starfish produces higher quality hygienic water because it removes harmful chemicals and has high microbiological killing power. The process is filter and chemical free and our waste represents only 2% of the water treated. There are no moving parts and no membranes to change.”

Customers can see demo models in the Starfish showroom located behind Dijon’s on Simpang Siur. Starfish is the sole distributor of its technology in Bali and their systems can be purchased directly from their showroom. End user’s testimonials, available from Troy, are impressive. Address: Troy Lowrie, Starfish Bali Water Purification, Kompleks Pertokoan Simpang Siur Square Blok C-6, Jl. Setiabudi, tel. 0361-759-740, hp 0815-4700-626, email: troy@starfishbali.com, website: www.starfishhongkong.com.

There are other providers available but not investigated for this article.

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