How Eburru locals tap geysers for water supply

Residents check on water draining into a tank at an improvised equipment used in trapping steam from geysers at Eburru village in Gilgil. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]
Residents near Lake Naivasha no longer rely on it for domestic water supply due to its heavy pollution by neighbouring flower farms.

And for those living in Eburru, their effort to get safe water is laborious and expensive.

KenGen supplied them with piped water from the lake which they only used for watering animals and crops on the farms during the dry season.

Domestic use

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To get clean water for domestic use, the residents have turned to trapping steam from random steam jets and geysers in the area.

The residents cannot dig wells due to active volcanic activity in the area, loose soils and low water table.

“The soils in the area are so loose that when you dig a well, it caves in after some time. It is also an uphill task to dig a well due to high temperatures and one has to go too deep to get water,” said Peter Njuguna, a resident.

Only a few locations in the area have enough steam to be tapped, with the best found on a five-acre communal land where the residents draw their lifeline from.

Communal land

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“For one to be allowed to tap the steam from the communal land, the community leaders have to approve. The geysers are few and keep on shifting or reducing their potential,” said Mr Njuguna.

To trap the steam, one has to identify a geyser that has the capacity of producing enough water. The residents then dig up to five feet below the surface and fix a pipe to the narrow vents through which the steam escapes from the hot earth.

The pipe leads the steam to a huge drum raised above the ground where it condenses into hot water. To increase the cooling effect, the tank is fitted with a long slanting metallic pipe and as the residual steam escapes the tank, more of it cools and drains back.

“The hot water is collected in another reservoir on the ground. The water is clean with no bad taste. We have been using it without any form of treatment for cooking and drinking,” said Mary Njeri, another resident.

For security, the reservoir tanks are secured with padlocks and metal bars.

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Households lucky to get active geysers and set up the equipment, which costs up to Sh5 million, sell the water to the residents at Sh10 per 20-litre jerrican. The amount of water collected depends on weather patterns.

“When it is cold, there is a lot of steam coming from the ground and at such times we give the water free. In a day, one geyser can fill a tank of up to 800 litres. During the dry period, we have to sell due to high demand,” she said.

In the cold season, the water is in plenty and the residents don’t have to worry about cold showers. The water is usually over 70 degrees celsius at the source and one has to let it cool before use.

While residents of the neighbouring Naivasha town and its environs have over the years suffered embarrassment due to discoloured teeth and effects on skin from the salty water in their area, this is not the case for Eburru residents.

The use of the steam is not new in the area. In 1935, White settlers who grew pyrethrum in the region established three steam-powered driers for flowers.s

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The driers, which are today owned by local farmers, are still operational. Hot steam through drying chambers liquefy after drying the flowers. It is then stored in tanks from which the residents can draw.

According to Nakuru County Director for Public Health Samwel King'ori, the water is yet to be tested for safety but no cases of illnesses have been reported.

"Unless there are chemicals that drain into the water, I believe it is safe for use," said Dr King'ori.

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Lake NaivashaEburruGeyserNakuru County