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State drops water desalination project in Coast due to high cost

Woman fetching water at a kiosk in Bangladesh, Mombasa, August 2021. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

A plan to set up a large-scale water desalination plant in Indian Ocean has been shelved because it is costly.

Coast Water Works Development Agency (CWWDA) said it had abandoned the project and was exploring other ways to address the perennial water crisis affecting the six counties.

CWWDA said it supplies about 180,000 cubic metres of water to Coast region's population of 4.329 million people against the demand of 329,306 cubic metres.

According to Martin Tsuma who is the acting chief executive, prolonged drought normally worsens the water shortage.

“The cost of power is about Sh140 to desalinate a cubic metre of water. If you add labour and maintenance costs, it would be very expensive to go that route," said Tsuma.

He said the national government is implementing projects worth Sh23.85 billion in Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River, Taita Taveta and Lamu to address the perennial water shortage.

CWWDA boss said aging water and sewerage infrastructure will also be rehabilitated or replaced to reduce losses.  It is estimated that CWWDA's non-revenue water supply currently stands at 50 per cent. Non-revenue water (NRW) supply is water produced but lost before it reaches the customer.

Mr Tsuma said that other than leakages, cases of theft or metering inaccuracies by unscrupulous water vendors also contribute to the NRW.  “A lot of investments are required to bridge the water shortage gap in the region. We also need to work on the water supply infrastructure which was done in 1923 and 1953.” 

The cost of power is about Sh140 to desalinate a cubic metre of water. [Courtesy]

About 155,000 cubic metres of bulk water supplies at the Coast is from Mzima, Baricho, Tiwi and Marere while 25,000 is from unconnected sources like boreholes and water pans.

The government is constructing Sh20 billion Mwache Multipurpose dam in Kwale County that will supply water to Kwale and Mombasa counties.

"Mwache dam project is coming up... The project is being implemented by the Kenya Water Security team from Maji House. CWWDA will handle the downstream infrastructure, raw water pumping stations, treatment plant and the pipelines," said Tsuma.

A pipeline will be constructed from Mwache to Mombasa's Dongo Kundu which will supply water to the proposed Sh3.6 trillion logistics and industrial hub or special economic zone in the area.

"Another pipeline will be from Mwache to Nguu Tatu and a third from Mwache to Changamwe. At the end of Mwache project, we will be able to produce 186,000 cubic metres of water per day," said Tsuma. "About 150,000 cubic metres of water from Mwache project that is funded by World Bank will go to Mombasa, which is hard hit by the water shortage."

The other projects include construction of Mombasa north mainland short term water distribution work in Nyali at a cost of Sh781.4 million, the construction of second Baricho to Kikuyuni pipeline at a cost of Sh1.4 billion.

In Kilifi, the government is constructing Sh1.35 billion second Baricho-Kakuyuni pipeline, drilling and equipping three boreholes and putting up a distribution infrastructure for water in Watamu.

"In Lamu, we have the Shella aquifer fresh water from the sand dunes which supplies the island. A pipe has been laid under the ocean to supply Manda Island.  We are also using a barge to transport the water to other islands," said Tsuma.