Australian engineers and architects have visited Indonesia in a bid to help the country improve its water efficiency and sustainability.

As of February 2014, the Green Building Council of Indonesia (GBCI) had certified four new buildings and three existing buildings.

GBCI had also registered 32 new building projects and three projects for existing buildings, while 16 projects were going through the registration process, highlighting the  immense potential of the country’s the green building sector.

Of particular importance is a new regulation which was officially implemented in Jakarta in mid-2013, stipulating energy and water efficiency requirements for building designs in order to reduce emissions and waste while also increasing energy efficiency in new large-scale developments.

According to Bligh Tanner Consulting Engineers director Chris Tanner, who was part of the AusTrade mission, the Indonesian government and construction industry is keen to capitalise on Australian expertise in environmentally sustainable construction and water management.

Australia has been through (and come out the other side) of the Millennium drought,” he said. “This has meant that Australian Water Technology has expanded to a point where it is some of the best in the world.”

In 2009, the Japanese Government made a decision to invest into emerging water markets in Asia and wanted to springboard off the latest technology. They chose Queensland, Australia, as the place to develop their technology as part of this strategy, and in conjunction with Bligh Tanner developed world-leading water harvesting systems for urban areas.

At Fitzgibbon Chase, a new 114-hectare housing development north of Brisbane, Bligh Tanner worked closely with Japanese engineers, JFE, Economic Development Queensland and the Queensland Water Commission to develop an environmentally friendly and cost effective integrated water management solution. The project features a non-potable stormwater harvesting system (the FiSH) and potable roof water harvesting system (PotaRoo) that are estimated to achieve a 60 per cent reduction in normal mains water use.

It is recognised internationally as setting a new benchmark for creating water sensitive cities, drawing delegations from Japan, China, Korea, Malaysia and Israel.

Tanner said meeting water efficiency requirements is integral to helping countries in tropical environments reach their green goals. Keys to this strategy include:

Pick the low hanging fruit: Critically examine all water uses and implement measures to manage their demands. This can include setting up garden irrigation systems that only operate during dry periods and that are suited to the plant and soil types, and use appropriate fixtures and fittings so that water demands are kept at a comfortable minimum.

Make use of the relatively rainy nature of tropical environments: Most tropical environments have a moderately high annual rainfall, with only a few dryer months, so this means the use of stormwater as a source of supply can be highly efficient at a local or precinct level.

Promote the design of urban landscapes to maximise self watering: Include the management of stormwater as an integral part of urban and landscape design so that opportunities to store and slowly use water for the landscape are maximised, while also providing for the filtration of dirty runoff. This also avoids the costs and environmental impacts associated with more traditional underground piped stormwater systems.

Use water that is ‘fit for purpose’: Where possible, use different classes of water for different uses. Recycled wastewater, for example, is often relatively nutrient rich and can be used for irrigation of gardens or better still, cropland. This also avoids the use of highly treated, expensive drinking water, which won’t provide the same benefits to irrigation areas.

Make the most of opportunities to make transformative leaps: Many tropical cities have not yet developed comprehensive drainage and water management systems, so rather than following the paths (or bad habits) of developed cities, pick out the good and the bad and choose new paths to make big transformative leaps forward – become the leading sustainable models.

There are a number of areas that Tanner suggests should be priorities in Indonesia, in particular:

Improved water supplies: The World Bank publication Helping Indonesia to reach its 2015 Water Supply Millennium Development Goal (MDG) says that in 2010, 47 per cent of Indonesians had access to a safe water supply, but only 25 per cent of those had access to a safe piped water supply. The MDG was to ensure 55 per cent had access to a safe piped water supply by 2014, but that target is not close to being met. Given that the population of Indonesia stands at around 250 million people, there is clearly a huge task ahead of the Indonesian water authorities to improve water supplies.

Alternatives and Opportunities: Given that many of Indonesia’s cities and towns are very densely developed, the provision of traditional forms of water supply (meaning big pipes and other major infrastructure squeezing into these dense urban areas) is very difficult and costly. In keeping with the idea of transformative leaps, Indonesia has an opportunity to develop water supplies on a local scale using recycled waste water or preferably stormwater as a source of water supply.

These systems are very resilient because of their interlinked nature, they are often developed in low lands that are otherwise not used, they can be part of beautiful landscaped areas with a sense of community pride and ownership, and they have significantly lower costs and environmental impacts than the big traditional systems.

Clean landscapes: Developing local systems also provides an opportunity to clean up frequently polluted waterways, creating community assets and helping manage micro-climates in cities.

Flood free: Many urbanised parts of Indonesia suffer significantly during the wet season because of a lack of good drainage and flood management systems. Integrating better drainage systems, preferably linking them together to form parts of their water supplies, and cleaning up their waterways is an important task that will provide significant improvements to the liveability of their cities.

Challenge the traditional: In the development of new water systems it is crucial to thoroughly understand the fundamental building blocks, to drill down into details and, if necessary, challenge traditional thinking.

“There is a real opportunity for the growing green building sector in Indonesia to look critically at what the more developed nations have not done so well, and ‘leap frog’ those technologies and approaches, while adopting and innovating on those ones which have worked,” Tanner said.