Why water utilities should invest in catchment areas

Child drinking water from a tap in Bamako, Mali. [iStockphoto]

Recently, discussion on water security has intensified as communities, worldwide, grapple with the twin challenges of rising water demand against declining quality and quantity.

While technological advancements in water treatment have made strides in ensuring safe drinking water, a more sustainable and cost-effective approach lies in protecting water source areas and catchments.

Catchment areas, regions from which our water is collected, are not only critical for water yields but also as the first line of defence against water contamination. These natural landscapes, including forests, wetlands, and grasslands, play a crucial role in filtering pollutants, regulating water flow, and maintaining the ecological balance essential for water quality. By investing in catchment protection, water utilities can enhance the resilience of these natural systems, ensuring a cleaner and more reliable water supply.

Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company (KIWASCO), a beneficiary of a functional catchment, has taken keen interest in the well-being of River Kibos which provides over 65 per cent of the raw water it purifies and supplies to thousands of Kisumu residents.

Recognising the river as a shared transboundary resource, KIWASCO has collaborated with the leadership of Kisumu, Vihiga and Nandi counties among other conservation groups within the basin to conserve the river.

Additionally, we have contributed to rehabilitation of Kajulu Forest in Kisumu by planting over 10,000 trees and currently undertaking stakeholder consultation to gazette the catchment area, thanks to the Catchment to Tap (C2T) initiative funded by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Kenya.

River Kibos traverses Nandi, Vihiga, and Kisumu counties, exemplifying an absolute journey of water. However, like many other water sources, the river faces immense challenges particularly degradation due to anthropological activities such as unsustainable agriculture, sand harvesting, deforestation, and pollution. These activities result in reduced water levels during prolonged droughts and high turbidity levels during rainy seasons.

Consequently, KIWASCO will join Water Resources Authority (WRA), Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF-Kenya) and the Embassy of the Netherlands among other stakeholders during the third edition of the Journey of Water Campaign this month in Kisumu to raise public awareness on catchment conservation and water security.

Amplifying the message; ‘Water Does Not Come from the Taps, but from the Catchments’ and that ‘everyone has a role to play in sustainably managing and preserving this infinite resource’ is as timely as necessary. Moreover, it is in such forums where collective actions and tangible policies are birthed to enhance water security in such times of climate shocks. 

One of the most compelling arguments for catchment protection is the economic benefit. Studies show that every dollar spent on watershed protection can save tens to hundreds of dollars in water treatment costs. This is a significant consideration for utilities constantly balancing tight budgets while trying to provide affordable services.

-The writer is Managing Director at Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company.