By Mary Hearty

With a population of about 50 million, 15 percent of Kenyans still rely directly on water sources such as ponds, shallow wells and rivers, while a further 41 percent of Kenyans lack access to basic sanitation solutions.

This is according to the 2021 Status Report from the Ministry of Water, Sanitation, and Irrigation, which further states that people living in rural areas and urban slums are the most affected as they are often unable to access piped water infrastructure.

Residents of Kanyadhiang’ village and its surroundings have been experiencing this challenge as they relied on distant and dirty brown water from rivers until a water treatment plant was launched in 2015 to help increase access to safe water.

The treatment plant is supplying water to about 21,680 residents of Kanyadhiang’ village and its neighbors in Karachuonyo Sub County, Homabay County.

Kanyadhiang’ water treatment plant, a project currently under Homabay Water Service Commission and developed with support from UNICEF
Photo credits: Mary Hearty

Zilpa Oloo, in her 50s, is one of the residents of Kanyadhiang’ who has benefitted from the water treatment plant, which was initially founded by the community members with support from the government and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), but is currently managed by the government of Homabay.

Oloo used to fetch water from the river and a nearby water kiosk- an extension of the Kanyadhiang’ water treatment plant.

She could fetch at least four-20 litre of jerricans daily to meet household needs, each costing five shillings (less than half a dollar) from the water kiosk.

Nevertheless, frequent backaches forced her to use a bodaboda rider who charged an additional shs 50(about half a dollar) for transporting four jerricans per trip to her home.

On the other hand, she notes that when getting water from the river, she used to pay the riders the same amount, but get water for free though dirty.

Another challenge was that the kiosks don’t have tanks to store the water, so when the water is pumped to the kiosks, only the people aware of it are able to access the water as the pumping only lasts for a couple of hours. This means that others who were not aware will miss out on the water.

She now has a tap water system directly connected from the water plant to her homestead. The tap water connection took place two months ago.

“I can now access safe and clean treated water easily within my homestead to prepare food, and drink as well as wash clothes and utensils. And so, I am able to save more time compared to going to the river,” Oloo said.

Now, the only challenge she experiences is that water coming from the tap is brownish but this lasts only for a short time before it clears.

Raw water from river Awach which is used at the kanyadhiang’ water treatment plant Photo credits: Mary Hearty

According to Briton Omondi, technical officer in-charge of the water treatment plant, raw water pumped from the river passes through the delivery pipe into the receiver channel where it is first treated and purified using aluminium sulfate.

Thereafter, it goes through the flocculation chamber, where small solid particles that alter the color of water and transport contaminants into natural water sources such as rivers, form flocs (sediments) that are then removed from the water through sedimentation.

The flocculation chamber is made up of many small compartments built to reduce the rate at which water flows as flocs form.

Water takes about 15 minutes to pass through the chamber before moving into the sedimentation tank where the flocs sink down as water continuously flows into the decanting chamber.

The decanting chamber is made up of a float with an open upper side, which is provided with an overflow rim, and at its lower part with a drain. This is another section of the plant where clear water is drained off through the overflow rim as the remaining flocs sink down.

Clear water from the decanting tank then flows to the sand filter. In this chamber, Omondi notes, the flocs that are still remaining are trapped on the surface of the sand filter leaving only clean water to flow downwards to an underground pipe. The sand filter comprises of sand on the top, stones and some carbon.

He says the plant is able to treat 45 cubic metres of water per hour, with the water able to fill the underground water storage tank (has a capacity of 500 cubic metres) within six hours when there is adequate water in the river, and before supplying the water to the community.

However, whenever there is water fluctuation from the river, then it takes up to 12 hours to fill the storage tank.

Sections of the water treatment plant where flocculation and filtration occur before flowing into the underground tank

Omondi says water capacity produced at Kanyadhiang’ water treatment plant can serve the community’s entire population as well as its neighbors if there is adequate water from river Awach, and more water kiosks are built.

The water kiosks which are part of the water project were built in different locations within the area to help community members living afar from the plant access water. They are situated in Liera, Jieri, Oriang’, Misita, Gul bridge, Simbi Yala, and Simi Kogembo.

Connecting the tap water system from the water plant to the nearby homes can cost shs.30, 000 (about USD 234) depending on the distance. This goes for paying for installation, purchasing water pipes, and registration among other charges.

Lenser Awuor, also a beneficiary of the tap water system says she no longer has to fetch water from the river which is very far from her home. The water is clean and they use it for drinking, cooking, and washing clothes as well as giving to livestock.

Awuor notes that sometimes the water is not available but this only happens when water in the river is inadequate due to the dry season. “At some point, we went without water for a whole month,” she recalled.

Lenser Awuor, washing clothes near a tap water connected in her compound Photo credits: Mary Hearty

David Okech Agali, also a resident from Kanyadhiang’ says, nowadays they have stopped fetching dirty brown water from a nearby river.

“We can now get clean water right close to our doorstep any time as long as we pay the water tokens, which go for one dollar per unit. This sustains us up to a month,” he explains.

Agali spent approximately shs 10,000 (about USD 78), for the requirements as he resides a few metres from the water plant.

Over the past two years, Omondi says, due to water shortage compounded by failed rains, the amount of water produced at the plant was very minimal, hence water supplied to the community was inadequate.

With the pump supplying water from the river to the plant, requiring a lot of water to perform, it broke down due to the depressed water levels.

“Since it uses electric energy to work, it had a tendency of breaking down because most of the time it was not able to get enough water to pump, unlike this year when we are even witnessing rains in January,” Omondi said.

Currently, other water projects including treatment plants are coming up in Homabay County.

The county government with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through a Western Kenya Water Project program which will benefit eight counties in the lake region, is set to establish another water project worth shs 185 million (about USD 1.4 million)to provide basic drinking water services to more than 50,000 residents and improve water resource management for people in the region.

Also, in early 2022, the county government with support from the Belgium government launched another water project worth shs 2.56 billion (about USD 19.9 million) in three areas namely Homabay, Oyugis and Kendu Bay to address the perennial water crisis in the region.