Coast residents can look forward to enjoying fresh water in their taps after the Mombasa County government got President Uhuru Kenyatta’s approval to acquire more than 10 acres at the Shimo La Tewa Secondary School to set up a Sh16 billion desalination plant, a first in the country.
The move has given impetus to Governor Hassan Joho’s plan to purify Indian Ocean water for use by the residents and to address the perennial water shortages in Mombasa, and the huge demand in neighbouring Kilifi County.
The Sh16 billion large-scale facility will be the region’s first public desalination plant, and will be constructed by two international companies, Almar Water Solutions of Spain, and Switzerland’s Aqua Swiss.
Aqua Swiss has been awarded a contract to build a smaller desalination plant in Likoni that can purify 30,000 cubic metres per day while Almar Water Solutions will put up the desalination plant in the north of the mainland.
President Kenyatta allocated the land while on a tour of the tourism hub, during which he opened the Mombasa Agricultural Show early this month and held a meeting with regional leaders.
This is the second win for the region after the President also committed to securing funds for the Mzima Springs II project, which will enhance the region’s water supply.
At the meeting, Mr Joho urged the President to fast-track the implementation of Sh42 billion Mzima Springs II pipeline and Mwache Dam projects.
“We would like to thank the President for the much-needed land at Shimo la Tewa for Mombasa to set up the desalination project and solve the water problem,” said Water chief officer Abdulwahab Mbarak.
The county government says the plant will pump more than 100,000 cubic metres of water per day, supplying more than 1 million people in the county.
Water Executive Fatma Awale attributed the shortages to inadequate supply from fresh water sources from Kilifi, Kwale and Taita-Taveta counties.
“Given the little water we get from the other counties, we can only mitigate this by rationing. The county still shares water with the Standard Gauge Railway line, Kilifi and Malindi residents,” Ms Awale noted. Mombasa has no fresh water source and relies on Baricho (Kilifi County), the Tiwi boreholes and Marere Springs in Kwale County, and the Mzima Springs in Taita-Taveta County.
But to address the shortage, the county has opted to desalinate seawater.
The county said plans for the construction are at an advanced stage and will take at least 24 months. The project was supposed to start in June, 2019, but was delayed.
“We now target having the ground-breaking event sometime in November. The county has made progress towards the development of the first major water desalination plant in East Africa, which will supplement the bulk water supply from the proposed Mwache Dam,” Ms Awale said.
Acute water shortage in Mombasa has also been attributed to direct theft of non-revenue water and illegal connections.
“The illegal connections rob the residents up to 50 per cent of the normal supply every day,” Ms Awale said, adding that the county is working with the World Bank to replace water pipes in various parts of the county to reduce wastage through leakages due to old and corroded pipes.
“We are also looking at smart technology for monitoring the pipes to stop loss of water through pilferage. We have arrested people over illegal connections but more can be done. If a resource is scarce, people get ideas to get around the systems,” she added.
Ms Awale said the desalination plant will be up and running by then end of 2021, and will give the county about 130, 000 cubic metres of water daily.
Another problem is the disconnection of power to the three companies that supply Mombasa County with water over unpaid bills. The Mariakani, Malindi and Mombasa water and sewerage companies operate under the Coast Water Services Board. They currently owe the Baricho pumping Station Sh16.48 million. If one defaults on payment, the others are also penalised.