Some people dig the earth in search of oil, gold or coal. Others, like in Jakarta, drill for water. In parts of the nation’s capital, where basic necessities like a steady supply of electricity or clear water are a luxury for some, well-driller Muhammad Ridwan comes into play.
For a couple of million rupiah, a one-time payment, you will get free-flowing water for the rest of your life. The 41-year-old will even give you a one-month warranty, just in case.
Are there a lot of people still seeking their own traditional source of spring water in a city like Jakarta?
Apparently, yes. The cost for clean tap water in Jakarta is very expensive, so many people choose to have a well as an alternate way of reducing their living expenses.
Most of my customers are factories. They need large quantities of water for their production needs.
Most of the well drillers in Jakarta are stationed on Jalan Tiang Bendera in West Jakarta, so when people need to find a well driller they always come here.
How did you become a well driller?
I chose this job because it’s a family business. My father started it and I always followed my father around to his jobs when I was a child.
So I learned a lot of the skills needed in drilling a well from him. I felt it was an interesting job, so that’s why I chose to continue doing this.
Besides, I didn’t need any formal education. I tried many jobs before I became a well driller, such as a debt collector and factory worker.
Do you have another ‘backup’ job?
Yes, of course. I must because the demand for this job in Jakarta is very low. In one month, I can only just get just one or two customers, so I can’t rely on it for a living.
I also work as an employee in a logistics warehouse. The warehouse is just right in front of my house. And my wife also opened a mobile phone accessory store next door to my house.
My son can do whatever job he wishes, whether it’s following my footsteps or not, as long as he has a good income.
How much do you charge for your service?
It really depends on how deep I have to drill to reach the spring. For clients who need a well for their homes, I charge
Rp 2 million to Rp 3 million [$210 to $320], excluding the water pump.
The depth of drilling is based on the area. The deepest drill I’ve done was for a client from Dadap, North Jakarta. It was for a factory. To find the sufficient volume and pressure, I ended up having to drill up to 100 meters deep for the pipes to reach an underwater spring. That project cost up to Rp 20 million.
It sounds like such projects demand a lot of machinery.
Yes. I do have my own manual drilling tools, but whenever I need bigger tools or machines to go deeper, I ask my friends and fellow drillers who own one. All well drillers in Tiang Bendera are good friends, so if one of us needs help with tools or manpower we help each other.
How clean is the spring water in Jakarta? Can you drink it after boiling?
You can if you’re a plant or if you can live with a stomachache [laughs]. Most of the spring water is only used for washing, bathing and watering plants.
Sometimes the water turns yellow. This is caused by the minerals in the surrounding soil. When this happens, you have to make a new well from a new spring in a different area. Or you can use a filtering machine, but the machine costs about Rp 5 million to Rp 6 million.
How do you deal with customer complaints?
Sometimes I get complaints if the water loses its pressure or stops running entirely. For this, I always give a one-month guarantee to my clients. If there’s a problem, any problem with their water, I will fix it for free.
Generally, the water stops because the spring it came from is drained from overuse, or there is sand or stones plugging the pipe.
Ridwan was talking to Erwin Chanputra