June trip update, Part 1: Searching for Water

The team traveled to Usalama in June 2014 to complete implementation of the project.  Here, we describe our activities and findings from the trip over a series of three blog posts.  Click here to see our drawings to help you visualize our system.

Jack, Anh, and Jackson chat by one of Usalama’s kiosks.

In previous posts (http://usalama.ewbny.org/update-from-the-design-team/), we mentioned the elephants in the wildlife preserve finding our old water supply line and damaging it, preventing water from reaching the points of distribution. Last year, we thought that protecting the pipes sufficiently would curb this problem. (The pipes can’t be buried underground because they cross over volcanic rock, which is very difficult to excavate.)  We thought that connecting to the new supply, which took a different path, would eliminate this problem.
Pipes damaged by elephants. This photo is from August 2013.

So it was a bit of a disappointment when we found our new tank empty on the first day of our trip, and learned that the elephants were a problem upstream, too. Closer to Umani Springs, the source of Usalama’s water and locked behind electric fencing, elephants were breaking apart lines for the new system, built by KIMAWASCO.  However, word from KIMAWASCO was that these lines had been fixed and that by the next day, water would be flowing to our tank.

But the next day, the tank was still empty.

After speaking with the director of KIMAWASCO, we learned that there were other potential reasons that the new village tank wasn’t filling up as expected.  One understanding is that another line had recently been installed to feed the nearby growing commercial town of Kibwezi upstream of Usalama, and this could decrease the pressure of water downstream to the Usalama tank significantly.  Additionally, we understood that the construction of a dam was in the works, which would be beneficial if this enhances the water supply to surrounding communities. However, it’s uncertain whether this would mean that the supply of Usalama’s water line could be bumped down lower on KIMAWASCO’s list of prioritized projects.

Jackson, Nolan and Jack survey the water system.

To get a better understanding of the situation, we walked along the supply lines, looking for any signs of leaks or water flow. Through some detective work beginning at the tap off from the Mombasa Highway where the main line continued onward to other communities downstream, we deduced that water was still not flowing through the supply line as KIMAWASCO had said.  We attempted to access Umani Springs to observe the water levels at the source, but were told by the security guard at the wildlife gates that it would be unsafe to do so, as a new herd of elephants was being introduced into the wildlife preserve.  With no water flowing through the pipes, Usalama’s kiosks remained closed, and villagers had to find other means of rationing and obtaining water. Despite there being an operable distribution system, Usalama had no access water within the village.


- Claire Wang

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