ENGINEERING MASTERPIECE

Nairobi a year away from enough water supply — CS

The county and national governments are working to instal pipelines to the city and tunnel water to reservoirs. CS Simon Chelugui spoke to the Star on how this will end undersupply in the city and other towns

In Summary

• The county will install a water pipeline from Kiambu to supply water to the city

• The state is connecting three rivers underground through the Northern Collector Tunnel

Moi Avenue Primary School pupils wash hands after the school's mid-morning break
Moi Avenue Primary School pupils wash hands after the school's mid-morning break
Image: JACK OWUOR

Some Nairobi residents only receive water once or twice a week, while those not so lucky purchase from vendors. The situation is replicated in other towns around the country, but those days are numbered thanks to mega projects in the works.

Noticing the vulnerability, some vendors have hiked their prices, selling a 20-litre jerrican at Sh50, up from Sh20. 

Water CS Simon Chelugui has blamed the shortage on the rising city population. The shortage can also be attributed to drought, as long rains expected from March to May were scarce. 

 

Based on current and projected forecasts, dry conditions are expected to dominate most parts of the country, leading to further decline of the water resource.

To counter this, Nairobi, in collaboration with the World Bank and the African Development Bank, will install a water pipeline from Kiambu to supply water to the city.

The water will be stored in a 14-million litre tank in Embakasi Garrison Barracks.

Governor Mike Sonko said the plan will ensure a steady supply of water that will help reduce the 250 million litres deficit.

He said Sh2.7 billion has been set aside in the current budget for the environment and water sectors.

In an interview with the Star, CS Chelugui explains that the government has come up with a number of interventions both short- and long-term.

 
 
 

“We have been experiencing a lot of water challenges. Rationing has increased because the number of consumers has also increased,” he said. 

 

“Short term, of course, we've done a number of boreholes in the settlement areas in Nairobi and also for schools. The long-term interventions that the government has done are to build and develop projects that are going to deliver bulk water to Nairobi.”

The Star: What are some of the projects the government has initiated?

CS Chelugui: One of them is the Northern Collector Tunnel, which is approaching completion. We are now about 87 percent, and this water will flow over 54km. The Northern Collector Tunnel is an interconnection underground of three rivers flowing to the Ndakaini Kigoro treatment works and all the way to Gigiri reservoir. About 61m litres is stored here.

The ministry is expecting 140 million litres of water per day from the tunnel. The Gigiri reservoir has been our nerve centre and is where we expect to distribute water to Upper Hill, Eastlands, CBD, Westlands and Karen. 

Water CS Simon Chelugui (in glasses) is shown by engineers the map for the ongoing Nairobi Water Distribution Network during an inspection tour
Water CS Simon Chelugui (in glasses) is shown by engineers the map for the ongoing Nairobi Water Distribution Network during an inspection tour
Image: COURTESY
I want to tell Kenyans there is white smoke at the end of the tunnel. It's been a struggle but through commitment and hard work, I believe in the next year there will be improved water coverage in Nairobi
Water CS Simon Chelugui

As you have mentioned, water rationing has been going on. What changes are city residents to expect, in which areas and from when?

By the end of 2020, we expect the Northern Collector Tunnel, the treatment works and the pipeline to be complete. So in the meantime, we are preparing, we are laying the ground, a distribution network, a pipeline from here all the way to Embakasi. These areas have not been covered before.

We are also covering a new line from Uthiru to Karen, and this further extends to Ongata Rongai. It's also from this centre we expect to serve Mavoko and Kitengela.

Storage capacity in Gigiri reservoir is about 61 million litres, and as I said, this is a nerve centre.

Water flows in and goes out, so really, we do not even store as we speak. We regulate the flow to all directions. With the launch of Karimenu dam, we expect to deliver another 70 million litres per day to Kigoro and Ndakaini. 

However, 50 million litres will be given to Kiambu, Juja and Ruiru and parts of Thika. So Nairobi from that dam will receive only 20 million litres. As we speak, we are also finalising financing agreements on Ndaruku dam, which is going to give us 173 million litres of water.

We also have Gatei and Maragua dams. All these programmes are geared towards reducing water shortage in Nairobi. What we think going forward is all these projects are expensive. These are capital investments but we have no choice as a country, we must invest to assure people good services. We are industrialising and are expanding housing schemes, and our hospitals also because the number of patients we have are increasing because of water-borne diseases.

So for us to reduce and bring down those numbers and have a healthy society, we must invest in water production. We are currently exploring various options for financing.

One of them is what we are doing now, borrowing money directly, the government of Kenya investing and also through engineering and procurement and finance, and then the popular model now is having a public-private partnership.

When we fully reform the sector and we have off-takers like Nairobi City Water being able to now distribute water, collect revenue and pay for these loans, then very many investors are willing to come and invest in dams and water projects and recover the money over a period of time.

The ongoing laying of the pipes of the Nairobi Water Distribution Network during an inspection tour
The ongoing laying of the pipes of the Nairobi Water Distribution Network during an inspection tour
Image: TRIZZA NJERI

MINISTER'S PLEDGE

What I can promise Kenyans by the end of 2020, there will be a relief in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu. We are also doing the 28 towns, which are also investing in water and sewer services.

Now that we have seen the government construct this tunnel, do we expect more of the same or the Northern Collector is the last one of its kind?

Actually, I congratulate Athi Water Service Board, which is one of our agencies in the Ministry of Water and Sanitation.

From that experience, we are now tunnelling Thwake dam. We are diverting the river, which is 11.4km, and we have another one kilometre in Thwake to divert to create space for the construction of the dam.

We are also doing tunnelling in Itare dam. Another 11km. So this has actually helped us move faster to implement some of the projects that would have taken so much time. As you know, Kenyans are land-hungry. 

Everybody wants a piece of land, even public assets. Even when our elders and senior citizens set some land or space for the public good, some greedy fellows grab the land. Tunnelling has helped us move away from this because we are able to go under and deliver service to deserving Kenyans.

At least what I can promise Kenyans by the end of 2020, there will be a relief in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu. We are also doing the 28 towns, which are also investing in water and sewer services.

Once we complete the Northern Collector Tunnel and once Karimenu is on board, there will be serious relief on the rationing we experience now.

I think as a government, we have never grabbed or acquired land illegally. Every section that we pass, we have carried out the resettlement action plan, and even persons affected by the project are properly and fully compensated.

We sit down, we negotiate, we value, we agree and we have done. We had 18 sittings in Karimenu to agree on the price, and this is exactly what we are doing across the country.

Not only on that northern pipeline. We do that as a ministry policy. We compensate and set aside money through the National Land Commission and assess value and we pay. Even those who are aggrieved and have gone to court, whatever the court has ruled, we have actioned.

What are some of the lessons we can take from this first project going forward, in terms of tunnelling technology?

I think this is an engineering masterpiece that has been witnessed during my time as a CS. I feel Kenyans are able because that project is designed by Kenyans, supervised by Kenyans and solutions to the challenges are given by Kenyans, and as a minister, I think this is the way to go.

We have been able to overcome challenges of access through tunnelling. It may be expensive but it is a solution that has fewer challenges, in terms of negotiating access.

Now that we have seen the flow of water to this point, residents from which area are going to benefit from the water coming from this project?

As we saw earlier, we went to the Southern line that takes water to Embakasi. The water will also go to Ngando, Waithaka, Ongata Rongai and Karen.

What is the promise you can give to Kenyans who are longing for better water supply?

I think I want to tell Kenyans there is white smoke at the end of the tunnel.

It has been a long walk, it's been a struggle, but through commitment and hard work, we've been able to deliver water to this point. And I believe in the next year, there will be improved water coverage in the city of Nairobi.

We will be left with a few sections on the southern part of Nairobi, which again we have made the plans and we have sourced for funds to also connect them.

So this is exciting and at least makes me hopeful and happy that within one year, we will be able to relieve Nairobians from the stress and pressure of accessing water.

Edited by T Jalio