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More than half of water firms supply ‘unacceptable’ water

A technician tests water at Nyeri Water and Sanitation Company's laboratory.
A staff at Nyeri Water and Sanitation Company’s laboratory. Nyeri Water is among only six water firms whose water Wasreb judged as ‘good.’

Water Services Regulatory Board (Wasreb) is a government firm that sets standards for licensed water services providers. It measures quality of drinking water supplied by water firms. This is a critical performance indicator because it has a direct impact on health of consumers.

A study by water sector regulator has found 45 water firms out of 87 licensed supplied water of “unacceptable” quality in 2019. Water Services Regulatory Board requires water firms to test drinking water for chlorine residual and organisms harmful to human health.

The board measures drinking water quality by testing for chlorine residual and disease-causing bacteria. Firms must get over 95 per cent to have ‘good’.

Wasreb shows in its Impact Report 2020, that only six firms out of 87 scored ‘good’ on drinking water quality. These are Nyeri, Eldoret, Meru, Nanyuki and Kiambu, all scoring 96 per cent, and Nakuru Rural with 95 per cent. Over half of all analysed firms (45) had “unacceptable” drinking water quality.

Among water firms classed as very large because of the high population in areas they serve, Mombasa and Thika were the worst performers with ‘unacceptable’ quality of water. They respectively scored 74 per cent and 87 per cent.

Nairobi Water, the largest among ‘very large utilities’, scored 91 per cent, which is ‘acceptable.’ This is however, lower than Wasreb’s desired score of “good” – over 95 per cent.

READ –Water firms ranking: Nyeri top for nine years with widest margin

How is drinking water quality measured?

Drinking Water Quality is a critical performance indicator since it has a direct impact on the health of consumers, says Wasreb. This measures a water firm’s compliance with chlorine residual standards and bacteriological standards. The two measures include two items.

  1. The number of tests done as a percentage of the number of tests planned according to the Wasreb guidelines on water quality.
  2. The number of samples within the required norm as a percentage of total number of samples taken.

In the study done in 2019 and reported in its Impact Report 2020, Wasreb says there was progress on test for chlorine residual.

However, there was decline in biological tests. The board reports that increased obedience to testing plans led to better chlorine residual results.

For bacteria test, there was a drop in testing and respect to testing plans.

Wasreb gives water firms a water safety plan when it is licensing them. They must follow this plan within the first year.


What is a water safety plan?

Wasreb gave water safety plan guide in 2019 after it found that end point testing was not enough to guarantee water safety.

Under a water safety plan, a water provider must do a thorough assessment of their water supply from the source to the consumer’s tap. water firms must identify hazards and risks and get steps to reduce or ease the risks.

Why bacterial tests?

Water suppliers must test drinking water for E. coli or total coliform bacteria. Faecal pollution can introduce disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites into private or public drinking water supplies.

Looking for E. coli and total coliform bacteria will show the health risk. Where they are present it shows possibility for contamination, either sewage, human or animal waste.

Why we test chlorine residual

Chlorine kills bacteria and some viruses that cause diarrheal disease. Chlorine will show in drinking water if enough of it was added to water.  Presence of chlorine signals that the water is safe from getting contaminated again during storage, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


About Kaburu Mugambi

Kaburu Mugambi is a veteran of business reporting having worked with two national newspapers in Kenya. He is a graduate of economics from Kenyatta University. He started his journalism career in 2000 with The People Daily as a business reporter before becoming a business sub-editor. He joined Daily Nation in 2004 as a business writer. He holds a post-graduate diploma in mass communication from University of Nairobi's School of Journalism and an MBA in marketing from the same university. In 2016, he founded Water Tower, a media firm focused on water, energy and climate. Its content cuts across water, energy and climate with emphasis on adaptation and sustainability.

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