An Interview with ENG. Michael Thuita, Ag. Chief Executive Officer Athi Water Services Board (AWSB). Full Interview appears in the March-April Issue of the Kenya Engineer and the Engineers’ Year Book 2017/2018

How relevant is your professional training to your current assignment?
Our core mandate is to develop bulk water and waste water infrastructure in various counties. AWSB serves a population of 6 million people and ensures provision of water and waste water services through the 12 Water Services Providers (WSPs). As a CEO, my engineering background is necessary in the conceptualization and implementation of projects. AWSB provides technical support to other Water Service Boards (WSBs) in areas outside of its jurisdiction for example Tanathi WSB.

Tell us about the Water and Sanitation Improvement Program.
The Project on Nairobi Sewerage Improvement is part of the larger Nairobi Rivers Basin Rehabilitation and Restoration programme which aims at enhanced sustainable management of the Nairobi Rivers that support natural ecosystems regeneration, socio-economic activities and improved livelihoods. The specific objective of the program is to eliminate pollution of Nairobi Rivers and protect them as alternative water sources.The Nairobi Rivers sewerage improvement project will increase sewerage network coverage especially targeting the high density areas which have low levels of service and are the biggest contributors to pollution in the Nairobi Rivers.The project objective is to rehabilitate and expand access to sewerage services for the Nairobi population from 40% in 2009 to 60% by 2016 for improved public health and sustainable environment.

Currently, the sewerage infrastructure in Nairobi only covers 25% of the area and serves about 40% of the population. There are 178,099 connections to the existing sewerage network. The Dandora estate sewerage treatment plant comprised of 8 series of ponds consisting of anaerobic, facultative and maturation ponds. The plant’s capacity was initially 120,000m3/day and under the programme, 11 anaerobic ponds were constructed bringing the plant to full design capacity of 160,000m3/d.

In the Kariobangi Waste Water Treatment Plant, the design dry weather flow (DWF) capacity of each of the existing stages is 16,000 m3/day, giving a total design capacity of 32,000 m3/day. Both stages were designed as conventional biological filter plants with effluent recycling. The two stages share a common inlet works; the original inlet works from Stage 1 having been retained as a storm water grit removal facility. The main inlet works comprise two channels, each with mechanically raked coarse and fine screens, grit removal tanks and flow measurement flumes. Currently, none of the M&E equipment is operational and as a result the plant is operating at 30% of its capacity. Under the programme, AWSB will rehabilitate the plant and bring it back to full design capacity.

What is the scope of this project?
The scope of works includes: Construction of 71 km of trunk sewers, 40km reticulation sewers and provision of 72,000 household sewer connections in various places in Nairobi covering the Nairobi River Basin, Ngong River Basin and Mathare River Basin; Rehabilitation of Kariobangi Sewage treatment plant. This will ensure that the plant is reinstated to its original design capacity of 32,000m3/day; Extension of DESTW Phase III to increase capacity by 40,000m3/day. This will also include construction of inlet works; Construction of 50 Ablution blocks and connecting them to constructed sewer lines in Dagoretti, KiberaMashimoni, GitariMariga, Kangemi, Kiambiu, Huruma, Kawangware, Babadogo and Mathare 4B; Tree planting along way-leaves and hygiene awareness in informal settlements within project area; Capacity building of AWSB and NCWSC staff; Consultancy services for feasibility study and preliminary design for energy generating facility at Dandora Estate Sewerage Treatment Plant; Construction of 50 New ablution blocks within the city.

What are some of the key projects the board has implemented or overseen over the past two years?
We have undertaken the Construction of the Northern Collector Tunnel Project which will bring an additional 140,000 m3/day of water to Nairobi. The project has three components comprising an 11.8km Tunnel, Water treatment plant and Raw and Treated water pipelines; Construction of Independent community water supply projects along the Northern Collector Tunnel in Murang’a; Construction of 56km of sewers and 40km of sewer reticulation network in various parts of Nairobi including Githurai 44, Githurai 45, Kahawa, Mathare, Riruta, Upperhill, Langata, Kileleshwa and Kangundo road; Rehabilitation of Kariobangi Waste water treatment plant to reinstate capacity from 12,000m3/day to 32,000m3/day and expansion of Dandora Sewerage Treatment Plant from 120,000m3/day to 160,000m3/day; Construction of transmission and distribution network in Nairobi to serve 300,000 people in Utawala, Ruai, Mihango, Karen, Kangemi and Uthiru areas; Construction of water distribution network to cover areas of Githurai, OngataRongai and Kiserian areas; Construction of water and sanitation projects in Oloitoktok, Kajiado County; Construction of the Kajiado rural water supply scheme to improve water services in the rural areas; Construction of Ithanga water supply to improve water services in Thika East; Drilling and equipping of boreholes in Athi Water Service Board, Tana Water Service Board and Tanathi Water Service Board areas.

What percentage of population in your area of coverage have you provided water to?
At least 75% of households in the urban centers 54% in Peri-urban areas have access to water. The Percentage of Households with Access to Sewerage and sanitation is 56% in urban areas and 38% in peri-urban areas.

What plans does the board have to address the deficits in both water supply and sanitation services?
In 2012, AWSB developed a water sources master plan for supplementing water deficit in Nairobi for implementation up to the year 2030. The masterplan identified an implementation schedule of new water sources in five phases. Athi Water shall increase water production from the current 664,000m3/day to 930,000m3/day by 2022. This will be achieved through implementation of phase 3 of the master plan which includes construction of
Karimenu II Dam which will increase water production by 70,000m3/day and has three components comprising construction of a water treatment plant with a capacity of 70,000 m3/day and Raw and Treated water pipelines;

Ruiru II Dam which will serve Karuri, Ruaka and Kiambu Towns with a production of 51,000m3/d; Construction of Maragua 4 water supply project;

Gatei Dam Water Supply Project- will serve Gatundu town, Kamwangi, Utawala, Ruai, Syokimau/Mlolongo, Athi River and Kitengela with a production of 55,000m3/day.

East Nairobi Sewerage Project phase 1.- will involve Rehabilitation and Construction of two (2) Sewerage treatment plants each of capacity 80,000m3/day, Laying of 180km trunk sewers, and 300km reticulation sewers. The project aims to increase sewerage to Eastern Nairobi City serving a total population of about 300,000 residents.

We also plan to Increase sewerage treatment capacity from the current 120,000m3/day to 246,500 m3/day through construction of East Nairobi Sewerage Project phase 1 and Nairobi Rivers Sewerage Improvement Project 2.

In your view, what do you consider to be landmark policy changes in the water sector over the past 10 years?
The Water Act of 2002 which led to the formation of 8 water services boards. This, alongside the devolution of water service provision to the counties helped in bringing services closer to the people.

The dynamics in the water sector have been improving for the last 15 years because of the registration of the water act of 2002. This act created the water services boards and other regulatory boards like the water services regulatory board and the water appeals board. The act also facilitated the creation of water companies. It marked major milestone towards improvement of water service delivery.

Another major achievement worth mentioning is the full devolution of water services to the counties with the promulgation of the constitution of Kenya 2010. Water service provision is among the functions that are fully devolved to the 47 counties and this was a major achievement especially for the people in the rural setups. Recently, in 2016, there was the registration of the water act of 2016 which is currently in the process of being enacted. This water act of 2016 will align the water service provision and infrastructure development with the constitution which acknowledges access to clean and safe water as a basic human right.

There is also the transition agenda where the water service boards will now transit into water works development agencies as per the water act of 2016 which will highly enhance provision of water services.

What are some of the challenges that you face as a water board in Kenya and particularly this region?
The main challenge that is faced by the board is financial limitations in infrastructure development, which is a core mandate of the water boards. Water and sanitation infrastructure development is a capital intensive activity. Another major challenge uniquely faced by us is the issue of land, because there was no provision of adequate land for these infrastructural developments. Where are the dams going to be constructed? Where are the pipes going to be laid? Where are the tanks going to be constructed? Where are the water treatment plants going to be constructed? If you consider the value of land in Nairobi and the surrounding areas the finances to procure and finance that land are enormous.

We are also faced with technical knowhow especially when it comes to personnel. Unlike other nations where there are a number of designated training institutions on water and sanitation, Kenya has only one such institution, KEWI. The institution current curriculum is limited to water issues yet when we talk about water infrastructure such as waste water systems we need highly technical expertise and competence.

What do you think are some of the opportunities and expected growth areas for engineers in the water Sector?
If you look at where we are headed to, water harvesting and storage are the big opportunities for engineers to venture into. There is also the area of waste water management, recycling and treatment. These are major areas that should be looked into. There is an urgent need to explore the field of desalination which is not fully navigated into in this country. Actually, there is still a lot to be done when it comes to ground water exploration. I believe there are lots of opportunities in the entire industry where water engineers can uptake for us to say we are wholly independent on technology aspects on water and sanitation.

What are the aspirations for this board and what separates it from other water boards in the country?
What is unique with this water board is that Athi Water is the board that develops water and sewerage assets for Nairobi city which is the economic hub for East and Central Africa. It also has satellite towns that acts as dormitory for the city which have the highest growth in terms of population and economic activities.

Secondly, comparing operation costs during development it is less costly and safer and with favourable weather conditions than Nairobi.

As for our aspirations, we have three main strategic intents: To maintain leadership as a premier institution by using strengths to take advantage of opportunities presented within our operating environment which include the Constitution of Kenya (2010), the Water Act 2016 and the sector legal framework; To reposition itself as a reliable and well managed center for best practice in the development and management of bulk water and waste water Infrastructure that is attractive to both public and private sector financing and also meet the ever growing populations needs; To provide an enabling environment that promotes research and innovation in development of sustainable bulk water and waste water infrastructure.

From an Engineering point, what is there to learn from the foreign organizations that you have partnered with while implementing various projects?
We have been partnering majorly with the World Bank, the German bank and the African Development Bank. Water infrastructure development is a capital intensive venture that is why our development partners have come in handy. Overall we benefit a lot from technology transfer. From an engineering point of view, the biggest lesson is that we need to invest in research and development in the engineering field so that we are able to reduce the cost of growing business.

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Kenya Engineer is the definitive publication of Engineers in East Africa & beyond and the official journal of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya. Kenya Engineer has been in publication since 1972.

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