As Nakuru town gears up to attain the much-touted city status, one of the biggest headaches that the cosmopolitan town is facing is perennial water scarcity.
The hope of the town ending water shortage by 2020 has been thrown in a spin after the Sh34 billion Itare dam project stalled midstream in spite of more than Sh10 billion being paid to the contractor.
The multibillion project was supposed to produce 100 million litres of water per day upon completion.
The town’s water demand is 60 million litres per day but the current water provider Nakuru Water and Sanitation Company (Nawasco) can only supply 45 million litres leaving the town with a severe shortage of 15 million litres daily.
The collapse of Itare dam is tragic as the town is strategising itself as the preferred investment destination. The company undertaking the Itare dam project, CMC Ravenna from Italy, has since been declared bankrupt after doing about 40 per cent of the works.
The multibillion dam in Kuresoi South with a storage capacity of 28 million cubic metres could be a game changer in improving access, quality, availability and sustainability of water supply in the town.
The matter has been complicated further by the dam scandals that have rocked Arror and Kimwarer dams as detectives extend their investigation to Itare dam.
So scarce is the commodity that some parts of the central business district go without running water for between three and five hours daily.
For the past five years the central business district has been a congested with water bowsers, and handcarts supplying water to consumers mainly hotels and individual traders as the shortage bites.
On average, the town receives 18 hours of supply instead of 24.
This has forced the water provider to devise a delicate water rationing program to ensure fair distribution to the town’s growing population estimated to be more than 500,000.
“At the pace at which Itare dam project was progressing before it stalled, this town would have started enjoying efficient water supply by end of 2020 and earliest by 2021,” said Nawasco managing director James Ng’ang’a.
The never-ending water shortage has dogged the town since the days of municipal authorities and has trickled down to the era of devolution.
Studies carried out in Nakuru town and its environs indicate that the region depends on groundwater sources, which are not sufficient to supply its rapidly growing population.
At the same time, the studies indicate that in some areas, the water contains excessive fluoride which makes it unfit for human and animal consumption.
“The current 24 boreholes we have cannot ensure round-the-clock supply,” said Mr Ng’ang’a.
The short-term mitigation efforts that Nawasco has devised include making sure the water pumps in all 24 boreholes are modernised.
“We are relooking at the efficiencies of those pumps and investing in modern ones to boost our daily water supply,” said Mr Ng’ang’a.
He added the modernisation of the pumps will translate into additional 10,000 cubic meters of water and this is set to increase supply to more consumers.
The service provider has plans to automate the boreholes to monitor them at real time instead of deploying workers at the pump stations to read the amount of water pumped manually.
The utility firm has long term plans to install smart meters that would measure the quality of water and send the metre readings direct to the company without having meter readers knocking the doors of consumers.
“We want to eliminate this idea of sending an army of meter readers and use technology to increase our revenues and improve supply.”
The company is also working with a private partner who has discovered a rich water well in Gilgil that has a capacity to supply 10,000 cubic meters per day.
The company has also invested in 52 water kiosks for residents living in low-income areas.
“We want to put prepay meters in low income areas that have water kiosks at a cost of about Sh23million and this program will be completed in the next six months,” said Mr Ng’ang’a.
Although 90 per cent of the residents access water through prudent rationing, 10 per cent which translates to about 50,000 residents have no access to water.
The residents are mainly in emerging settlements areas such as Mzee Wa Nyama, Barnabas along the Nakuru — Nairobi highway and Rhonda Ng’ambo and Barut among other remote parts of Nakuru County.
However, the utility is collaborating with residents who have started water projects in areas such as Rhonda by providing them with water pipes at a cost of sh20million to boost supply.
One of the challenge facing the water provider is provision of water round the clock to the residents, theft of water resulting into non-revenue water supplied.
“What is shocking is that majority of people who steal our water are rich people and business owners while our low income consumers pay us well,” said Mr Ng’ang’a.
The theft of the infrastructural materials especially the manhole covers is rampant as vandals steal to sell them to scrap metal dealers.
“In a month we replace more than 100 manhole covers which costs the company millions of shillings,” said the MD.
The past regimes have failed to address the systematic failures to provide the commodity even as the town water deficiency sinks deeper.
In the current county budget for the 2019-2020 at least Sh700million has been set aside for capital water projects.
The defunct Nakuru Municipal Council owes the company unpaid debt of Sh250million.
As at the end of last financial year the government institutions had not cleared their Sh70million water arrears.
“Given that we are supposed to finance our own activities that is huge amount of money and is equivalent to what we bill our consumers every month,” said Mr Ng’anga’.
The scarcity of water and poor sanitation has led to disease burden to the increasing population.
“It is important to put aside more money for sanitation projects as they go hand in hand with increased water supply,” said Mr Ng’ang’a.