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Water gravity flow schemes pose environmental disaster

Water gravity
Water is life. While in some areas water is taken for granted due to abundance, in others, it has been a source of conflict and war.

The government has used all sorts of methods to get water from whatever source in efforts to bring it closer to the people. However one source that is proving hazardous in the long run is the gravity flow scheme. This is where water is tapped from a higher point and distributed to beneficiaries through pipe system after storage.

While it would be cost effective if properly handled, some concerns have been raised over some of the schemes that have not achieved desired results. Some of these schemes have tapped almost all the water from the source without leaving an adequate amount in the environment commonly known as environmental flow.

This has led to downstream water sources like wells, shallow wells, boreholes and some springs drying up in some of the catchment areas.
Poor management of water catchments along where water is extracted is also a problem. The source should be be protected, leaving a buffer zone of at least 100 metres by 50 around the source which should be under natural vegetation and where necessary, trees should be planted. This helps in the replenishment and regeneration of natural environment.

The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) focal person and Mbarara district natural resources Officer, Mr Jeconious Musingwire, says every water scheme should have an environmental impact assessment before construction which helps to address environment concerns of the area and each scheme should adhere strictly to the original design to be cost effective. “If the design is for 50 taps, they should remain that number.” However some schemes have been abused and have ended up not serving the intended purpose as some have dried up.

Kicence-Kanoni water scheme in Ibanda District from Bwahwa Ridge has been abused leading to the scheme not serving the intended communities due to illegal taps. The ridge itself is bare without tree cover. While the population may not be blamed for the illegal connections, strict supervision should be put in place for such schemes to benefit the intended communities.

Kagongi-Rubindi water scheme has also been abused and now the population of Rubindi, who are the intended beneficiaries, have to wake up early in the morning, especially during the dry season, if they are to get any water. Rubindi town is one of the areas with contaminated water in the backyard that is not fit for human consumption due to high water table. The water has come into contact with human excreta.

Nyabikungu water flow scheme has not been spared either. Construction started two years ago but finishing was a big problem as political interference led to the changing of the original plan of 79 taps to 143. This has left some people with no water. At the commissioning of this scheme the illegal connections were exonerated instead of being discouraged.

Demand for water services in communities fuels illegal connections and failure of the enforcement of the scheme design due to political pressures. Others have abused domestic water and used it for animal production which should not be the case because animals consume more water than human beings.
Bushenyi LCV chairman, Wilberforce Yaguma, blames technocrats who allocated production water to some districts that are not in dire need of such water like his is.

“There is need to follow the existing hydrological maps of ground water potential and existing hydro geological data in the districts and ministry of water and environment which should provide guiding principles. If political meddling is not reduced, some of the water projects like the above mentioned may remain white elephants at the end of the day”, says Yaguma.

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