Irony of dry taps in Kabarnet, home of multibillion-shilling Kirandich dam
Thousands of locals relying on the multibillion-shilling Kirandich Dam on the outskirts of Kabarnet town for water have nothing to celebrate, having endured decades of perennial water shortages.
The dam, built by an Italian firm in 1994, has a reservoir of 14 million cubic metres and supplies water to about 23,000 people in Kabarnet, Baringo County’s capital, and its environs.
However, despite the huge capacity, regular water shortages are the norm, attributed to electricity disconnections over unpaid bills owed by the Kirandich Water Company, which is managed by the Central Rift Valley Water Works Development Agency.
The bills had previously accumulated to more than Sh8 million, prompting Kenya Power to disconnect power at the dam.
Mechanical problems owing to the ageing pumping machines have also been cited as a major setback. The equipment has not been replaced since the dam started operations two decades ago.
For the past one month, locals have endured water rationing after four of the five machines broke down, limiting the pumping of water to a storage tank on a hill in Kabarnet, six kilometres away.
The problem was aggravated when the remaining machine broke down on Saturday, leading to an acute water crisis. Locals now queue for hours at the few springs on the outskirts of the town in search of the limited resource.
Hundreds of locals were seen queuing with their containers at the water sources, which are almost drying up due to the long dry spell.
Hoteliers in the town have complained that the water shortage is raising their expenses because they have to hire water trucks to fetch water from the dam, with 16,000 litres costing Sh5,000 a trip.
They suspected that there could be a cartel colluding with the water company’s corrupt officials to avoid paying their power bills and purchase substandard spare parts, which break down regularly.
“It is a sad state of affairs here because we now have to hire motorcyclists to get water for us at springs kilometres away, and they spend hours queuing because of the huge demand,” said Dorothy Mengich.
Locals also fear water shortages could lead to outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne diseases in the area with a population of more than 60,000.
“We are now in danger of contracting waterborne diseases by consuming contaminated and uninspected water from springs,” said Daniel Ruto, a hotelier.
He said that the situation has been worsened by the lack of a sewer line in the town, with wastewater flowing in open gullies and trenches, posing a health hazard to residents.
Residents are now threatening to stage demonstrations if their plight is not addressed by the authorities.
Schools have not been spared either, with students wasting valuable study time to fetch water at the Emunyar and Kiberenge spring, the only lifeline for residents.
Those hit hardest are Kapropita Girls, Kaptimbor and Kabarnet Boys secondary schools, Kapropita Primary, Kiptilit, AIC Visa Oshwal, Kaprogonya, Kings Hill Academy, and Kaptimbor and Mumol primary schools.
Kirandich Water Company managing director Philip Chepsat told the Nation that the water in the dam is sufficient to serve the growing population but the regular water crisis was aggravated by the ageing pumping machines.
“Initially, there were five pumps that were supplying water to the storage tank in Kabarnet. Four of them have broken down over the years and the one that was replaced in 2019 also broke down two days ago, dealing a big blow to the water supply to locals,” he said.
Clients have accumulated debts
He added: “We incur huge costs pumping water using electricity to the storage tank, spending more than Sh2.5 million on electricity bills alone.”
The company, he said, is also reeling from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic because clients have accumulated debts and workers had not been paid for three months, hampering maintenance work at the dam.
To make up for water shortages, he said, trucks will supply water to schools, health facilities and hotels until the machine is repaired or a new one purchased.
He said the stalled Sh2 billion phase two project, which involved extending water supply to Kabartonjo, Kiboino, Kapkut, Kituro, Kabasis and Kaptorokwo, was expected to ease perennial water shortages in Baringo Central and Baringo North sub-counties.
Recently, MCAs, led by Bartabwa Ward Rep Reuben Chepsongol and his Sacho counterpart John Tarus, accused the Kabarnet Water Company of inefficiency despite clients settling their water bills on time.
“The water company is grappling with managerial problems that need to be streamlined. Water leakages and payment of water bills are still big problems that need to be addressed,” Mr Chepsongol said.
The project was expected to introduce a power plant that would pump water from the water source to the destinations.
The design also included the laying of a sewerage system and waste management in Kabarnet for Sh700 million.
The cost of pumping water from the dam to the main tank in Kabarnet is expensive because it requires a lot of electricity, with the devolved unit spending more than Sh4 million every month yet it generates revenues of only Sh2 million.