AN INQUIRY INTO THE MANAGEMENT OF COMMUNITY-MANAGED WATER SUPPLY SYSTEMS IN UGANDA: WHAT IS THE PLACE OF EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS?

On 28th July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon countries and international organizations to provide financial resources, undertake robust design and construction of both water and sanitation systems to serve the world population currently without access as well as improve reliability in areas experiencing intermittent water supply. 

To ensure the manifestation of this resolution, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)/Agenda 2030, SDG 6-“Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” was later adopted in 2015. 

It should be recalled that access to safe, clean, and affordable water is not uniform among countries. While the goal has already been realized by some, for others, mostly developing countries, it is still a work in progress far from realization. As such, identification of potential water sources, undertaking feasibility studies, design, and construction, and ensuring proper management of water supply systems will remain a core focus for most of the developing countries in the short-long term if the realization of safe and clean water for all is to be achieved. 

The water supply sub-sector in Uganda is highly decentralized and devolved, from systems’ designs, construction to management. As such, there are many players within the sub-sector: district local governments, the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), International Authorities such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Directorate of Water Development (DWD), and the Umbrella Authorities and several WASH-based Non-Government Organisations (NGOs). The sub-sector also has several private players undertaking majorly the roles of design and construction or rehabilitation of water supply systems on behalf of the former entities. 

It is worth noting that all these players are currently involved in some activities aimed at bridging the accessibility gap. The NWSC is the biggest subsector player, independently undertaking the design and construction of water supply projects; both high capital and low cost, and subsequently undertaking their day-to-day management. 

The other major player is the DWD that majorly undertakes the design and construction of water supply systems that it thereafter transfers the management function to either the NWSC or the umbrella authorities. 

On the other hand, some international organizations such as the UNHCR, NGOs, and the district local government authorities mainly design and construct and cede the function of the day-to-day management to beneficiary communities. 

Admittedly, the design and construction of localized water supply systems is the main cornerstone needed to bridge the accessibility gap. However, it should be noted that proper management of these systems is equally important, as the mere provision of hard infrastructure is not a “silver bullet” solution for water problems. This reality is affirmed in the SDG 6 targets 6.4 and 6.5; ‘water use and scarcity, and ‘water resources management respectively.

In the Ugandan context, the NWSC possesses the most sophistication and specialization at the management of water supply systems judged from its experience (has been in the business since 1972) but also from the vindication of many international studies on it. It is no wonder, therefore, that it (NWSC) is involved in the management of water supply in more than 256 towns/areas. On the other hand, the umbrella authorities under the MWE can be commended for the good job they are doing as regards the management of water supply systems under their care. However, community-managed systems remain some of the most mismanaged and are therefore the subject of subsequent analysis in this article. 

Water supply systems constructed for and managed by the communities themselves in developing countries suffer from mainly two deficiencies: misaligned behavior and technical incapacity. 

The effective sustainable management of water supply systems is a complex ongoing scientific task, requiring the use and input of scientific knowledge and procedures daily. 

Scientific knowledge is needed in managing such aspects as operation and maintenance, system extensions, water treatment, managing energy costs, working towards sustainable water loss levels and water use efficiency, water quality analysis and adjustment of chemicals’ dosing thereof, etc.

However, hardly do communities or members therein possess such knowledge. The result is therefore usually improper management of these systems which compromises the objectives of setting them up. 

On the other hand, due to the lack of an agency to enforce strict management of the water resource on one hand and lack of proper accountability mechanisms such as universal metering, some unscrupulous members of the society exploit this gap to the detriment of others. As such, cases of water diversion to meet their irrigation needs at the expense of others are common. This is usually done by powerful downstream users at the expense of upstream water users.  

On the other hand, financial mobilization to aid in the purchase of critical repair fittings for example is usually not easy. These communities usually agree to a universal surcharge of say Shillings 2000 or $ 0.57 per month, payable by all families that draw their water from the system. In as much as this figure looks representative, it is still flawed when put on the equity measurement scale. This is because all families cannot use the same amount of water every month owing to differences in family composition and water needs extents. No wonder collecting this money from individual families is usually an uphill task. To make matters worse, this money is also usually poorly accounted for by the village user committees as it is mostly misappropriated. 

As developing countries, NGOs, and international organizations work towards universal access to clean and safe water and improved sanitation, the modus operandi of entrusting the management of the constructed water supply systems into the total care of communities needs review to address the above gaps. 

It is proposed that an assessment be undertaken to study the feasibility of annexing such water supply systems to the existing water supply management agencies i.e. the NWSC and Umbrella Authorities. 

On the other hand, different communities could be mobilized into forming specific cooperative societies charged with the management of water supply systems within specific areas such as at the sub-county level and provided with technical assistance from the ministry of water and environment. This kind of arrangement has been explored in Isingiro district with three cooperative societies of Ruhira water and energy co-operative society in Nyakitunda sub-county; Nyamuyanja community co-operative society limited operating in Kabingo and Birere sub-counties, and Mureme water and energy co-operative society limited. The author has undertaken a mini-study on the operations of these cooperative societies and found them to meet modest water supply systems management practices. 

It is also worth noting some NGOs e.g. Oxfam is now directly involved in the continuous system management of the water supply systems they are constructing on behalf of communities. This is commendable and should be replicated by sister NGOs and other development partners. 

Furthermore, strategic public-private partnerships could be explored in providing especially technical assistance to the community-managed water supply systems. 

Overall, while the role of engineering of working towards better efficiency and effectiveness in regards to water supply systems management needs to be reinvigorated in developing countries to work towards the attainment of such important performance indicators such as water use efficiency, energy efficiency, economical water loss levels, etc., community-managed water supply systems ought to be visited first to at least bring them to par with better-managed systems. 

Irrigation: A Game Changer for Uganda’s Agriculture

Quick Facts

  1. Irrigated land produces 40% of global food (IFAD, 2015).
  2. Currently, Uganda’s ratio of cultivated area under irrigation to the irrigation potential is only 0.5%. This compares lowly to 3.6% for Tanzania, 2.0% for Kenya and 1.6% for Burundi.
  3. Uganda has one the highest irrigation potential in the world with over 15% of her surface area covered by fresh water resources (National Irrigation Policy, 2017).
  4. More than 50 percent of residential irrigation water is lost due to evaporation, runoff, overwatering, or improper system design, installation, and maintenance.
  5. Egypt, with 90% of the land being desert practices her agriculture on only 3% of the 1 million square km total land area, almost entirely dependent on irrigation but is able to feed its nearly 90 million people (NBI, 2012).

It is common knowledge that agriculture is the centrepiece of Uganda’s economic development. However, Uganda’s agriculture has progressively been constrained by the frequent occurrence of droughts, and as such consistently fails to realize its full potential. Irrigation systems can play a critical role in closing the potential-performance divide of Uganda’s agriculture. While traditionally, irrigation has been a preserve of high value and ornamental cash crops like sugarcane, flowers etc., the increasingly variable rainfall patterns, long dry seasons, and recurrent droughts make irrigation inevitable for subsistence food and forage production as well. Irrigation can play a critical role in response to droughts that have dented the country’s food security, since well-designed and managed irrigation systems are known to increase yields by 2-5 times for most crops, as intimated by the National Irrigation Policy.

On the side of livestock and dairy farming, dry seasons greatly affect milk production in dairy cattle.  This is as a result of traditional grass drying up and the associated negative impact on the entire milk production/value addition chain. Poor livestock nutrition leads to a drop in productivity (milk yield), loss in the bodyweight of the cow, low reproductive performance, long calving intervals, slow growth, and mortality from starvation in extreme conditions. However, irrigation can play a significant role in taming this perennial challenge through systematic growth and preservation of forage to supplement crop residues and pasture roughages. Irrigation facilitated forage production and management can help overcome the feed shortage, contributing to improved milk production and quality, all year round.

Irrigation is the systematic application of additional water to plants in order to sufficiently meet all of the crop water requirements, with the objective of improving productivity. Irrigation is applied to meet water deficits that reduce crop production, which normally results due to insufficient rainfall and/or insufficient storage within the water table in the soil. Irrigation can be practised for vegetables, fruits, and forage production in livestock and dairy farming. Through this controlled application of water for agricultural purposes, nutrients may also be provided to the crops through irrigation, a process known as fertigation. The various sources of water for irrigation are wells, ponds, lakes, rivers, canals, tube-wells and even dams. Irrigation offers moisture required for growth and development, germination and other related functions.

The frequency, rate, amount and time of irrigation are different for different crops and also vary according to the types of soil and seasons. For example, during dry seasons, crops require a higher amount of water as compared to wet seasons.

Costs for irrigation systems depend on a number of factors such as:
  1. Closeness to water source.
  2. Terrain of the land.
  3. Soil suitability.
  4. Acreage to be irrigated.
  5. Equipment used.
The type of irrigation is determined largely by:
  • Terrain (topography).
  • Land size to be irrigated.
  • Source of irrigation water (rivers, lakes, swamps, or reservoirs).
  • Availability of power/solar.
  • Water conveyance and distribution (pumps or gravity).
  • Infield water application technique.
  • Amount of soil moisture deficit.

In choosing an efficient irrigation system, a thorough analysis of the type of crop to be farmed, type of dominant terrain, soil conditions, operating pressures have to be adequately considered. Irrigation is broadly classified in 3 types depending on how water is delivered to the plants.

Types of Irrigation Systems

There are different types of irrigation practised for improving crop yield. These types of irrigation systems are practised based on the different types of soils, climates, crops and resources. They vary in how the water is supplied to the plants. The goal is to apply the water to the plants as uniformly as possible, so that each plant has the amount of water it needs, neither too much nor too little. The main types of irrigation practised by farmers include:

  • Drip irrigation systems.
  • Sprinkler irrigation systems.
  • Furrow irrigation systems (Surface irrigation systems).
Drip Irrigation

Drip (or micro) irrigation, also known as trickle irrigation, functions as its name suggests. Water is delivered at or near the root zone of plants, drop by drop, by means of applicators (orifices, emitters, porous tubing, perforated pipe, etc.) operated under low pressure with the applicators being placed either on or below the surface of the ground. This method can be the most water-efficient method of irrigation, for if managed properly, evaporation and runoff are minimized. The field water efficiency of drip irrigation is typically in the range of 80 to 90 percent when managed correctly. Drip irrigation is often used as a means of delivery of fertilizer, a process known as fertigation. It provides slow, even application of low-pressure water to soil and plants using plastic tubing placed in or near the plants’ root zone.  

Chemigation and fertigation

The application of both chemicals and fertilizers can be done when using drip irrigation systems through injector pumps. These pumps allow for suitable delivery rate control, while backflow prevention protects both equipment and the water supply from contamination. These systems are very efficient since they deliver to the plant roots directly.   

Advantages of Drip Irrigation
  • Drip irrigation can help you use water more efficiently since it aims at direct delivery of water to the plants’ roots.
  • A well-designed drip irrigation system loses practically no water to runoff, evaporation, or deep percolation in silty soils.
  • Drip irrigation also permits the use of the fertilizers and chemicals, and it is by far the most efficient on this aspect.
  • Drip systems are adaptable to oddly shaped fields or those with uneven topography or soil texture.
  • Drip irrigation can be helpful if water is scarce or expensive.
  • Precise application of nutrients is possible using drip irrigation.
  • It uses less water, reduces leaching of soil nutrients and erosion of top soil.
Disadvantages of Drip Irrigation
  • Generally, the initial investment cost per-acre of farmland is expensive considering the amount of tubing (piping) needed.
  • Drip tape or tubing must be managed to avoid leaking or plugging.
  • Except in permanent installations, drip tape causes extra clean-up costs after harvest.
  • This type of irrigation requires more maintenance.

N.B: Drip irrigation system design requires careful engineering. Design must take into account the effect of the land’s topography (slope and contour) on pressure and flow requirements. There is a need to plan for water distribution uniformity by carefully considering the tape, irrigation lengths, topography, and the need for periodic flushing of the tape.  

Sprinkler Irrigation System

Sprinkler irrigation system is a type of irrigation which imitates the natural rainfall. It is a system comprising of a sprinkler-nozzle combination as main system components; devices that achieve equal circular distribution pattern of water under a particular radius around its installation position. The selection of an appropriate sprinkler and nozzle combination requires knowledge on system types, sprinkler spacing, operating pressures and soil conditions. In greenhouse production, sprinkler systems are less common and emitters are frequently microsprinklers which deliver water at lower rates with greater precision to the base of the plants.

In essence, a pump is connected to pipes which generate pressure and water is sprinkled through nozzles of pipes and overhead high-pressure sprinklers. Sprinklers can also be mounted on moving platforms connected to the water source by a hose. Automatically moving wheeled systems known as traveling sprinklers may irrigate areas such as small farms, sports fields, parks, and pastures unattended. This type of system is known to most people as a “water reel” traveling irrigation sprinkler and they are used extensively for dust suppression and irrigation.  

Movable sprinkler systems are also in use in various parts of the world. These apply water slowly during the irrigation set, after completing the irrigation set, the sprinkler system is moved to an adjacent area for the next set. This is a cheaper option in comparison to installation of permanent sprinklers that manage the entire farmland. However, erroneous application of water can result since it largely depends on human judgement, which more than often is not necessarily well competent.               

Advantages of Sprinkler Irrigation
  • Sprinkler irrigation can be used on rolling land.
  • It can permit good control of the amount of water applied.
  • It requires less labour in comparison to furrow systems.
Disadvantages of Sprinkler Irrigation
  • Although multiple sprinkler heads with short distances between emitters can be used to create a more uniform distribution pattern, the system inherently has uneven distribution pattern.
  • Application of excessive water than is actually required by the plants can result if precision design is not undertaken.
  • The system is not suited for crops for which it is undesirable to wet the foliage.
  • Although sprinkler systems can be used to deliver chemicals and fertilizers, it is less efficient in comparison to drip irrigation since not all is delivered to the plants.

Sprinkler Nozzle, Pressure and Spacing Selection: Efficient irrigation system design requires the selection and matching of the sprinkler equipment and spacing to the crop, soil and field shape.      An appropriate sprinkler spacing is determined by the type of nozzle used and the operating pressure selected. Every sprinkler-nozzle combination has a specific operating pressure range. Too much pressure will disperse the water stream into a very fine spray resulting in increased evaporation losses or poor distribution. Wind effects on sprinkler distribution patterns are more pronounced on fine droplet sizes. Conversely too little pressure will not sufficiently break up the water stream and may result in puddling, runoff, poor distribution patterns and crop damage.

Surface Irrigation (Flood or furrow)

Surface irrigation is where water is applied and distributed over the soil surface by gravity. Surface irrigation is often referred to as flood irrigation, implying that the water distribution is uncontrolled and therefore, inherently inefficient. In this system, no irrigation pump involved and the water is distributed across the land by gravity, with the entire surface of the soil covered by ponded water. In Surface irrigation, water from a source such as rivers, pipes, dams, canals etc. floods the soil surface.  

Furrow irrigation is conducted by creating small parallel channels along the field length in the direction of predominant slope. Water is applied to the top end of each furrow and flows down the field under the influence of gravity, soaking into the earth. Water may be supplied using gated pipe, siphon and head ditch, or bankless systems.   

Flood irrigation is a method where a farmer floods the growing plants with water. Rice is the main crop irrigated by flood irrigation.

With surface (furrow, flood, or level basin) irrigation systems, water moves across the surface of an agricultural land, in order to wet it and infiltrate into the soil. Water moves by following gravity or the slope of the land. Surface irrigation can be subdivided into furrow, border strip or basin irrigation.

Advantages
  • Surface irrigation is used extensively in rice farming. This is because the permanent flooding acts as a natural pest control method and rice can survive in waterlogged soil.   
Drawbacks of Surface Irrigation
  • Surface irrigation uses a lot of water compared to other irrigation methods.
  • It could also drain nutrients beyond the reach of plant roots.
  • If the water is excessive, it could cause damage to the plant.
  • It is not water use efficient and is also not effective for application of chemicals and fertilisers.
Centre Pivot Irrigation

Center pivot irrigation is a form of sprinkler irrigation utilising several segments of pipe (usually galvanized steel or aluminium) joined together and supported by trusses, mounted on wheeled towers with sprinklers positioned along its length. The system moves in a circular pattern and is fed with water from the pivot point at the center of the arc. In Uganda, this system does exist at Kakira Sugar Ltd.

The sprinklers shoot water from pressurized outlets or guns from pipes into the air which then fall on the plants. Center pivot irrigation is a type of sprinkler irrigation, basically with sprinklers on wheels. Water is distributed by overhead high-pressure sprinklers or guns from a central location in the field or from sprinklers on moving platforms.  

Manual Irrigation

This is a labour intensive and time-consuming system of irrigation. Here, the water is distributed through watering cans by manual labour.     

Management of Irrigation Systems

Watch out for leaks

As irrigation systems comprise of pipe network, there is a likelihood of wear and tear resulting into leakages. Also leakages can be a result of external damage on the pipe network during cultivation or by animals and insects. Therefore, it is important to routinely check out for leakages through dedicated physical inspections.

Include a water meter

Inclusion of a water meter after the pump is important as it tracks both the efficiency of the system and that of the pump itself. Through recording of daily consumptions, if an unexpected excessive deviation from the norm is noticed, it may be an indicator of a leakage and calls for intensified inspection. On the other hand, if it is noticed that water delivered was very low compared to the norm, it may be an indicator of reduced pump efficiency or that there is a challenge with the water source or the pre-treatment system before the pump. Either way, knowledge of how much water is used comes in handy. In the systems where irrigation water is paid for, this knowledge is a key input in the economics of the entire system.

Application of chlorine to clear clogged emitters

The piping system is prone to establishment and growth of algae and other micro-organisms. Routine application of chlorine will ensure the system is free of those organisms. This is because chlorine denatures their enzymes and hence inhibiting growth and multiplication. However, this must be done with the guidance of a specialist as chlorine can also be harmful to humans.

Benefits of irrigation
  • Irrigation promotes resilience against drought and food insecurity.
  • Stable irrigation water supply enables farmers to have stable production of crops, increase yield, and hence improve farm income.
  • Irrigation makes farmers more resilient to the growing water stress, by insulating against seasonal variability and drought, increasing their agricultural yields and efficiency, and lengthening the growing season.
  • Irrigation helps to bring most of the fallow land under cultivation.
  • Irrigation helps to stabilize the output and yield levels.
Irrigation efficiency

Increased irrigation efficiency has a number of positive outcomes for the farmer, the community and the wider environment. Low application efficiency infers that the amount of water applied to the field is in excess of the crop or field requirements. In some parts of the world, farmers are charged for irrigation water hence over-application has a direct financial cost to the farmer. Irrigation often requires pumping energy (either electricity, solar or fossil fuel) to deliver water to the field or supply the correct operating pressure. Hence increased efficiency will reduce both the water cost and energy cost per unit of agricultural production. A reduction of water use on one field may mean that the farmer is able to irrigate a larger area of land, increasing total agricultural production. Low efficiency usually means that excess water is lost through seepage or runoff, both of which can result in loss of crop nutrients or pesticides with potential adverse impacts on the surrounding environment. On the other hand, low efficiency undermines the effort of ensuring water use efficiency, reversing the strides of achieving sustainable water resources management.  

Improving the efficiency of irrigation is usually achieved in one of two ways: either by improving the system design or by optimising the irrigation management. Improving system design includes conversion from one form of irrigation to another (e.g. from furrow to drip irrigation) and also through small changes in the current system (for example changing flow rates and operating pressures). Irrigation management refers to the scheduling of irrigation events and decisions around how much water is applied.   

Conclusion

Irrigation uptake has the potential to substantially increase farm productivity and improve living conditions for millions of smallholder farmers in Uganda, and ultimately a game changer for Uganda’s agriculture. It holds the transformational potential for Uganda’s agriculture, which for too long has continued to punch below her weight

How You Can Avoid A High Water Bill

Experiencing A High-water Bill? Here Is Why And How You Can Avoid It

Most of the water connections in the developing countries which are managed by some water utility are metered. Universal metering is good as it plays well in the dimension of water use efficiency, ultimately contributing to sustainability of water resources. On the other hand, universal metering brings about equity. This is done by billing exactly what a particular customer has consumed and not based on guess work or mere estimation. The billing is normally done routinely, say monthly. However, sometimes the billing is over and above the usual average for a particular customer. In this article, I discuss the possible causes and how sustainably going forward; this can be avoided or timely managed.

High billing can be caused by different factors. These include:

  1. Leakages on direct, transmission or distribution pipes after a utility meter;
  2. Faulty fixture, and;
  3. Customer tank

Leakages On Direct, Transmission Or Distribution Main After A Utility Meter

It should be noted that a customer has a mini supply system composed of pipes, tank(s) and water use points. These are all connected and supplied by a network of pipes. Direct pipes can be defined as those that supply water use points e.g. kitchen sink, sprinklers without first drawing their water from a customer tank. On the other hand, the distribution pipes are those that draw their water from the customer overhead tank. On the other hand, the distribution pipes are those that draw their water from the customer overhead tank.piscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

It should be noted that all water supply systems, in this case inclusive of the mini supply system of customers, are susceptible to develop leakages.

However, in the absence of smart water metering, the responsibility of operation and maintenance of these systems is up-to a customer’s utility meter. This is rightly so because the design, choice of pipe and plumbing material and installation of fixtures is to the customer’s preference.

The most obvious cause of leakages on the pipe network after the meter is the use of poor-quality pipes not fit for the purpose. Pipes are classified according to the maximum pressure they can withstand depending on their wall thickness. As such, we have Pressure Nominal (PN) of 4, 6, 10, etc. pipes. In view of the recommended standard for utilities to deliver water to customers at a pressure of at least 2.5 bars (or approximately 25m head of water), it is advisable that the selection of the pipes to be used for the mini water system at the customer’s premises match the prevailing pressure from the supplying utility.

However, because most water supply systems in developing countries have not installed pressure monitoring and pressure regulating systems, this makes it very hard to properly ascertain the prevailing pressures in their water supply networks. As a consequence, therefore, pressure variations reaching a customer’s meter point are expected periodically. Considering the above, experience has shown that PN 10 pipes, which are designed to withstand maximum pressures of up to 10 bars or approximately 100m head of water are the most suited for this purpose. Therefore, the use of pipes with lower pressure nominal than 10 is not encouraged, as it is more susceptible to develop leakages.

Since it is advisable to lay these pipes underground, usually when they develop leakages the water lost via those leaking pores percolates into the ground and rarely rises to the surface for customers to immediately notice.

Overflowing Customer Tanks

Most customers store water in overhead tanks for use in case water supply is off from the water utility. These tanks, owing to wear and tear can become faulty and consequently begin to overflow. These tanks are controlled by ball valves from overflowing. These tanks are controlled by ball valves from overflowing. However, when these ball valves become faulty, they no longer can control the filling of water into the tanks, resulting into overflows.

The good thing, however, is that the tank overflows can easily be noticed and when noticed, water into the tank can be regulated, usually by closing a stop cork or gate valve installed either before or after a utility water meter before or after a utility meter.

Faulty Fixtures

In the modern home, the use of various plumbing appliances has been adopted to improve sanitation, in some cases to also ease work. As such, appliances such as water heaters, dish washers, flushing toilets, washing machines etc. These appliances too are susceptible to wear and tear and can become faulty. Most of the appliances when they become faulty can easily be noticed, e.g. a tap or shower will keep releasing water and upon noticing this, immediate remediation or replacement should be done.

On the other hand, when toilets become faulty, they are not easy to notice but keep flushing a certain amount of water, constantly until this is noticed. If the self-flushing of the toilets proceeds unnoticed for a long time, it leads to high billing. However, a simple experiment can be done to confirm if a flushing toilet is overflowing or not. Simply put a dye in the toilet sink and if the dye appears in the cistern without using the toilet, such a toilet is faulty. The most common faults in toilets are due to breakages of ball valves.

On the other hand, it is also important to note that sometimes the careless use of water is the cause of high billing. Furthermore, sometimes when supply from a utility is off and upon opening a tap it this is noticed, some water users usually forget to close those taps and in case one stays away from home for a long time and water returns and finds the tap open, a lot of water is lost in the process leading to high billing. This should be avoided.

So Then, How Can We Manage Our Water Billing?

The first and most important way of preventing high billing is through the use of pipes and fixtures fit for the purpose. This author recommends the use of water and energy efficient fixtures while selection of the right pipes depending on the water pressure reaching the customer meter as the best guiding principles. This, however, may require consultation from an expert. And we do exactly that at HYDRO CONCEPTS (U) LTD.

On the other hand, the most appropriate way of easily managing high billing is through deployment of smart water metering which, upon notice of any fault after the meter immediately sends warning to both the water utility and customer. That way, faults are noticed immediately they occur and remedial actions can too be implemented thereby ensuring very minimal loss.  In this regard, it is also important to note that even some of the existing water meters can be smartened through installation of data capturing and transmission technological aspects such as loggers.

Furthermore, the development and deployment of sensors that monitor the customers’ pipe network and/or fixtures with enabled warning systems can be helpful. However, more focussed research and development is still needed in this area.

However, in the absence of smart water metering, these steps below can be useful.

Most times customers notice high billing upon receipt of a bill from a water utility. However, this is sometimes very late, after a substantial loss. And yet, this can be avoided by routinely monitoring your meter performance, say twice every week.

The first step to notice if there is any fault after a utility water meter is by temporarily halting the use of water downstream of a meter and noticing its behaviour. If the water meter stops registering, this indicates no problem after the meter. However, if the meter continues to count, then it indicates a problem after the meter.

To understand which particular cause it is, start by ruling out over head tank overflow since this is obvious. Secondly, do the toilets test and if the toislets are ok, then it must be a leakage on the pipe network.

Pinpointing the exact point of leakage on the pipes requires specialised knowledge and equipment if costs are to remain minimal. The use of specialised equipment, the geophones or ground penetrating radar is the most recommended as these assists in pin pointing the exact point of leakage and consequently exposing around that point can be done and repaired. Else, excavation following the pipes would be the other remaining option. However, this too ought to be done in presence and guidance of an expert.

High Billing Vs. Equity

Many questions have to date been raised in the area of high billing and how it relates to equity. For instance, in rented apartments or single houses, if the cause of high billing is fault on fixtures, tank overflows or leakages on pipes, who should bear this extra cost? Is it the land lord or the tenant?

These questions will be answered in our next episode on this topic.

How Can We Achieve Sustainable Water Use Efficiency

Hydrology teaches us that the amount of water on earth is constant. However, its geographical and temporal distribution is not. Also, the water’s quality is not the same world-wide, often presenting self in a non-portable state. The reasons for this uneven distribution are both natural and man-made. Ultimately, therefore, the available resource must be used sparingly. This makes Sustainable Water Use Efficiency (SWUE) a fundamental and critical area requiring attention.

Sustainable Water Use Efficiency (SWUE) can be defined as a perpetual resolute involving the careful utilisation of the available water in a manner that achieves the best possible benefit per unit of water.

The careful utilisation of water can be as a result of mere behavioural change such as turning off the water while you brush your teeth, adoption of new and improved technology e.g. water-efficient fixtures such as toilets and washing machines or could encompass mandatory legal requirements.

In this article, I propose two major objectives to guide actions if we are to achieve SWUE.

  1. Ensure unwavering conservation of the natural vegetation on one hand, and undertaking robust afforestation on the other.
  2. The abstraction, treatment and usage of water should be done in such a way that the best possible benefit per unit of water is achieved while conserving aquatic ecosystems.

Firstly, it is important to appreciate the undisputable significant role played by the natural environment especially the trees and aquatic animals in the water cycle. The trees and plants, together with water surfaces such as oceans, lakes, and rivers are responsible for evapotranspiration which in turn is responsible for rainfall formation. On the other hand, the aquatic ecosystems (plants and animals therein) are regulators of water quality and quantity.

Without conservation of these important aspects of the environment, the hydrological cycle is likely to be affected with possible adverse effects such as the drying up of rivers, substantial reduction in area and depths of lakes while replenishing of underground water might greatly reduce or cease. On the other hand, severe events such as floods and droughts, and consequential destruction could result.

It, therefore, follows that for any water use efficiency measures to function; the primary sources of water MUST first be conserved or even improved through such measures e.g. appropriate afforestation. The term appropriate is here emphasised because over time, experience has shown that certain tree species are more suited for certain environments if sustainability of water is to be achieved.

So then, how can we achieve sustainable water use efficiency? To achieve SWUE, I propose five major pathways which play interlinked roles. These are:

  1. Work toward and promotion of currently under-exploited sources of water
  2. Policy and advocacy
  3. Behavioural change
  4. Use of technology
  5. Application of scientific knowledge

Work toward and promotion of currently under-exploited sources of water

World over, the most exploited sources of water are freshwater sources-lakes, rivers, and groundwater largely owing to the ease of abstraction and treatment. The other sources of rainwater harvesting, seawater and fossil groundwater are largely ignored for varied reasons. For fossil groundwater and seawater, their abstraction and/or treatment is very expensive, understandably so. However, rainwater harvesting; which is affordable has largely been ignored. Yet, if implemented could help relieve a lot of pressure on the surface freshwater sources.

Going forward, advanced technology-driven by application of scientific principles should be pursued to make the abstraction and treatment of seawater and very deep groundwater more affordable.

Rain water harvesting

Rainwater harvesting can be defined as the process of collecting, conveying and storing rainwater for later use. This rainwater can be collected from such surfaces as rooftops, paved surfaces or rocky catchments. It can be stored in ground-level tanks, underground constructed tanks as well as used to recharge aquifers.

Although rainwater is used to replenish aquifers through subsequent percolation and infiltration processes, contributes to the river/stream flow consequently contributing to the volume of water in lakes, seas and oceans, it should be noted that a lot of it collects in aquifers that are not readily exploited for human use. If this portion that is stored in those not-readily exploitable aquifers was obstructed, harvested, stored and used, it would relieve the freshwater sources of a lot of pressure. It is worth noting that while rainwater harvesting is relatively cheap it is largely ignored.

Therefore, a deliberate effort aimed at the promotion of rainwater harvesting encompassing policy and advocacy, aspects of behaviour change and technology is needed.

Waste-water treatment for re-use

Waste water is increasing being viewed as a resource rather than a waste! In this regard, treatment of waste-water is now focussed at resource (energy and water) recovery. In this regard, scientist are on a discovery course aimed at the development of relevant technologies that can ably treat waste water generated when water is used for various purposes to suitability for re-use without fist releasing it to the environment. This way, a cycle is maintained and this ultimately relieves fresh water bodies of pressure. Also, where the technology involved in the abstraction and treatment of water is quite expensive, say sea water, money can be saved and devoted to other needs. But this is very key where alternative sources are either expensive or non existent.

The technologies involved can either be remote, say used at household or institutional level but can also be centralised where waste water is collected and treated at a single treatment facility and re-channneled to the system for various uses. While research into this area is still ongoing, in some countries e.g. Singapore and Israel the level of deployment of the already tested systems is very commendable.

On the other hand however, it is also important to note that when universal collection of waste water and its subsequent treatment to acceptable standards and is then released to the environment it contributes to environmental flow which is equally good. Howevr, collection and subsequent treatment of waste water in most of the developing countries is still very wanting. And neither have they embrased remote waste water treatment for re-use. This needs to be eorked if sustainable water use efficiency is to be achieved.

Sustainable physical water loss management

Physical water loss is defined as the water lost in various water distribution networks world over as leakages, bursts and tank overflows up-to a customer’s utility meter. However, in light of sustainable water use efficiency, we necessarily have to add to this volume the amount of water lost after a customer’s water utility meter as leakages, over head tank overflows and through the leakage of faulty toilets.

This is an already treated resource to standards that is lost, and yet could have been used to supply customers who currently lack supply in intermittent systems but could also releieve fresh water bodies of additional pressure. Although technology innovations aimed at curbing this loss such as geophones, ground penetrating rader, deployment of sensors and smart metering are already deployed to play a key role in reducing this loss, their universal deployment needs to fast be tracked. Additional, further technological development in this area is still needed. On the other hand, the regulation around this area especially aimed at compelling water supply utilities to reduce this physical loss to the acceptable and economically viable volumes is needed in countries where it is currently absent while strengthening of the same is needed where feasible.

Technology

Considering the two set objectives, technology will play a key role in assessment, monitoring and regulating water usage. In the effort to ensure sustained environmental protection, technology will be needed to monitor and give fast feedback regarding the status of such aspects of the environment as wetlands, swamps, gazetted forests among others. In this regard, remote sensing should be used to achieve this goal. For instance, through the integration of software tools with capability of mapping, programming and relaying information, deforestation, swamp reclamation and wetland destruction attempts can be quickly thwarted through a signal warning and consequent immediate deployment.

On the other hand, technology is already playing its role in the monitoring of water resources, for instance, the depth/width of lakes and oceans, flow of rivers and aquifer recharge trends as well as monitoring of other properties of these water bodies/resources. Going forward, universal deployment of these technological packages and tools should be fast-tracked to ensure all water bodies/resources are monitored. The processing and analysis of the data collected, its dissemination, further analysis and research and consequent decision making should be done very fast.

Furthermore, technological packages and tools are already being deployed in the management of water’s end-use. As an example, the amount of water used for domestic uses e.g. flushing of toilets and handwashing is being regulated while water supplied to crops too is being regulated through analytical and trigger systems, aimed at achieving the possible benefit per unit of water.

This is being done through automation of water supply and irrigation systems as well as other uses. With this, demand analysis and management of water for all uses is being done. This is a commendable step thus far. While more fine-tuning is still needed, the universal application of the already tested systems should be explored. Examples of these systems include smart water metering, use of sensors in the management of water supply systems, leakage detection equipment such as geophones and ground-penetrating radar, etc.

Policy and advocacy

Considering the above objectives, a conclusion can be made that a lot of focus has been put on the policy and advocacy of objective one which is good. However, more studies need to be made and if there are any gaps in this regard, they be filled especially in the quality of laws and guidelines but also their enforcement.

However, as regards aspects of abstraction, treatment and usage of water in such a way that the best possible benefit per unit of water is achieved while taking care of water needs of other water users other than humans, more is still needed in as far regulation and advocacy are concerned.

For instance, although many countries have incorporated the aspect of minimum environmental flows, this needs further popularisation and universal consideration. Considering the current gap, going forward, there is a need for formulation of area-specific regulation and guidelines at all levels i.e. international, regional and national.

On the other hand, although contamination of and encroachment on water resources is punishable in almost all countries, serious gaps exist between policy and implementation and this needs serious review.

As regards advocacy towards sustainable water use efficiency, the area has largely been left to well-wishers with main-stream government and government agencies playing a dormant role. In my view, the mainstream government needs to take it up as a serious issue that forms part of its day to day business especially regarding the education of masses on the promotion of water use efficiency.

Application of scientific knowledge and Behaviour change

The above three aspects will largely be guided and enabled by the use of scientific principles and ensuring behaviour change.

For instance, scientific principles will be needed to guide every future endeavour aimed at achieving sustainable water use efficiency, be it research, technology and regulation.

On the other hand, unless human behaviour is adjusted and aligned to the tenets of sustainable water use efficiency, the endeavour is likely to remain futile.

From the foregoing, it can be concluded that more dedicated effort is still needed if we are to achieve sustainable water use efficiency. And yet, this is not optional but rather a MUST. For if timely interventions are not sought and implemented, going by the current trends, over-exploitation of freshwater sources to the extent of drying up in some parts of the world, while the causing of severe events such as floods and droughts is very likely.

Sustainable Water Use Efficiency

Seventy one per cent of the worlds’ surface is water. 4% of it exists as fresh water-a more easy and less costly form to treat for suitability to the various water needs of domestic, industrial or agricultural (irrigation and livestock). Startlingly, of the 4% only 5% is safe for human consumption. Whereas fresh water is a renewable resource, it is also finite. The other forms of water include sea water and fossil ground water (very deep ground water).

Water demand can be defined as the total volume of water required to satisfactorily meet the water needs of particular society at a specific time. In the context of water use efficiency, water demand can be defined as the total volume of water that can be precisely used through careful optimisation in such a way that the best possible productivity per unit of water (e.g. cubic meter) is achieved.

As noted above, water is mainly required for industrial, domestic and agricultural purposes. A careful analysis will reveal that the total amount of water required to meet these needs since time immemorial to-date has been on the increase. And this demand is projected to soar in the future. Why? In the past, using the Stone Age error for example, owing to less sophisticated way of living and less population then, man only needed a few litres of water to meet all his daily water needs.

However, as man has been growing more sophisticated in all aspects, including the invention of various methods/ways or technologies such as dish washers, washing machines, flushing toilet, etc., of exploiting and using water, most of which aimed at improving sanitation and hygiene, so has the demand for more water to meet those needs.

On the other hand, as the current developing countries inevitably transition into developed ones, more factories that need water for various uses will be set up while the surface area for irrigation will increase. Furthermore, human population is only projected to increase. These will further add additional demand for water.

From the above discussion, it is also important to note that the per capita water demand has been increasing over time. Per capita water demand is the volume of water required by an individual to meet all their life and hygienic needs in a given time span e.g. daily. This is largely influenced by level of economic development and ease of accessibility of water. For instance, an urban dweller that uses a flashing toilet surely needs more water than his rural counterpart who uses a pit latrine. However, accessibility to safe drinking water is now rightly viewed as a fundamental human right. Therefore, as rural people develop through well focussed commercial farming, for example, and as issue of accessibility is addressed, this disparity may not be anymore, bringing with it more demand for water.

There is no more readily available water now than there was centuries ago when the world population was only a small fraction of its current size. Unsurprisingly, according World Resources 2000, the availability of fresh water, has dropped from 17000m/person in 1950 to 7044m in 2000.

Worryingly as the situation seems to be, and projected to deteriorate further if well thought multidisciplinary decisions aimed at achieving sustainable water use efficiency are not implemented, it is important to note that the Homo sapiens (human beings) are not the only species who need water.

A Substantial amount of the readily available fresh water is also required to sustain natural aquatic ecosystems. It is important to note that inadvertently, the survival of human beings directly or indirectly depends on the health of these natural ecosystems. These systems are regulators of water quality and quantity. On the other hand, species such as fish are now economic goods, directly fending incomes for very many people along the fishing-eating value chain.

Therefore, the abstraction of water for such uses as domestic, industrial or agriculture must be carefully and properly done in order to ensure water needed to sustain the health of the aquatic systems is not compromised. On the other hand, pollution of aquatic ecosystems as well as encroachment and reclamation on those systems should be checked.

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