Tough times as water bill rises by 900 per cent
More than 500, 000 people in Isiolo and parts of Meru, Laikipia, Wajir, Garissa and Marsabit County within the Ewaso Nyiro North Basin Area (ENNBA) region are staring at a looming water crisis following the revision of the resource use charges upwards by the Ministry of Water and Sanitation.
Domestic, public and livestock permit holders will pay Sh5 for 1000 litres of water up from 50 cents for the same volume, a 900 per cent increase, aggravating woes occasioned by the drought which is Kenya’s worst in 40 years even as a majority of the users term the new charges too punitive.
The measures that which Water Resources Users Association (WRUA) members have opposed are contained in the Water Resources Regulations 2021 that CS Alice Wahome’s Ministry ordered Water Resource Authority (WRA) to fully implement effective Wednesday (February 1).
Permit fees for Class A, B, C and D have also been increased with users now required to pay the water bills monthly and not quarterly as has been happening.
The five-year renewable permit for classes A, B and C has been increased to Sh3,000, Sh25, 000 and Sh45, 000 from Sh1,000, Sh7, 500 and Sh25, 000 respectively.
Isiolo/Meru WRUA’s 130 groups officials were notified of the new developments during a meeting with representatives from the WRA at Maili Saba in Timau, Meru County a few days before the deadline.
Users question why the implementation of the regulations that were passed in 2021 was being done over a year later and an alleged failure by the government to notify them in time so that they brace for tougher times ahead.
The users earlier alleged the government's plan to deny them water saying the new charges were too high for a majority of them to afford due to the harsh economic times even as the government is set to launch a water protection police unit that will be tasked with protecting critical water assets.
The majority of the counties in the ENNBA region are hard hit by the drought that has exposed over 5 million Kenyans to hunger and resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of animals, many families might not be able to afford the commodity putting them at risk of water-borne diseases.
The WRUA officials in Isiolo had earlier been notified by the region’s WRA Senior Revenue officer B. Kaleve of the changes and advised to visit local offices to clear pending bills and renew their permits if they have expired.
“Kindly visit our offices in Isiolo and clear your arrears as penalties for late payment have also been revised upwards. Note that the bills will be paid monthly and not quarterly,” read the message seen by Nation.
While a recent letter by WRA boss Mohamed Shurie required all component heads, Basin Area Coordinators and Sub-Basin Area Coordinators to familiarise themselves with the regulations, the Isiolo WRUA team was notified exactly four days before the February 1 deadline.
“As you are all aware, the water resource regulations (2021) became operational in February 2022. WRA is in receipt of a letter from the Ministry Ref: WD/4/1/5/9 Vol. VI dated January 11, 2023, whose purpose is to bring to your attention the direction from the Ministry as well as to highlight features of the regulations that WRA is required to implement,” the January 16, 2023 letter copied to CS Wahome and PS Kipronoh Rono read.
Isiolo WRUA officials have protested the rates saying they will expose the users to unnecessary suffering as many might not be able to comply with the new requirements.
“If our members have been struggling to pay 50 cents per cubic metre, will they manage the new charges at a time when every Kenyan is struggling to put food on the table?” one of them who sought anonymity posed.
Among the areas to be affected are Isiolo Central and Meru’s Kibirichia, Tigania West and Kisima areas in the two counties.
WRUA members lamented they were never involved during the formulation of the regulations despite being among the critical stakeholders in the sector with some terming the measures a scheme by the government to forcefully reduce the number of beneficiaries.
Tenants in the region and especially within populated Isiolo town and its environs in Isiolo Central Sub-County will be forced to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for the crucial commodity as the local provider, Isiolo Water and Sanitation Company, Iwasco will hike the fees.
Mr Gabriel Mukondi, a landlord, said he was privy to information that water rates would go up from next week and revealed that tenants will shoulder the cost.
“My tenants have been contributing some money for water and I will have no option but to adjust the prices accordingly. They (tenants) must brace for the tough changes,” Mr Mukondi said.
Some of the residents who spoke to Nation expressed disappointment about the regulations and accused MPs of ratifying them without considering the repercussions.
Mr Ismail Hassan called for the suspension of the new regulations saying under the current harsh economic times, residents risk contracting waterborne diseases due to poor hygiene and sanitation and rationing.
“Our county is among those hard hit by drought. Most water sources have dried up and it is sad that the government has revised water prices upwards. Arid and Semi-Arid counties should have been spared from the new charges,” a Wabera Ward resident said.
Health officials in Wajir and Garissa are on high alert as cholera continues to wreak havoc in the counties.
So far, 11 people have died in Garissa where the cumulative caseload stood at 1,889 last week with Garissa Township, Fafi, Dadaab and Lagdera Sub-Counties the most affected.
In Wajir, nine people had died and125 others hospitalised by last week, Wajir South being the most affected with five of the latest cases reported in the Biyamathow area.
Another resident Ms Sarah Mukiri said adequate sensitisation should have been done before the ministry chose to implement the regulations.
“How would one tell you to comply with new charges within four days?”
Regulation 84 (1) provides that except for category A, water users and all other abstractors are required to pay the new water use charges effective February 1.
Domestic, public and livestock water users will pay Sh5 per cubic metre of water, those in hydropower generation will be charged Sh2 per kWh for over 1Mw while those abstracting water for irrigation Sh2 per cubic metre for the first 300 cubic metres in a day and Sh2.5 if they use more than 300 cubic metres daily.
Fish farmers will pay Sh1 per cubic metre of water while commercial or industrial Sh5 for the same volume for the first 300 cubic metres in a day and Sh6 for over 300 cubic metres.
Besides the monthly water use charge, permit holders will also pay a levy amounting to 5 per cent of the monthly use cost as a water conservancy levy to the authority by mid-month for water used in the preceding calendar month. The renewal of the permit is required to be done three months before its expiry.
Regulation 36 (2) indicates a penalty of Sh25, 000 for each month of delay in submitting the application for renewal meaning if one’s permit is expiring in December and they fail to apply for renewal in October and do so late or after expiry, they will pay Sh75, 000 in penalties.
In the event, one extracts water exceeding the permitted amount by over five per cent, they will be charged Sh10 per cubic metre of water, the regulation indicates.
Mr Shurie directed Water Resource Users Associations to ensure proper enforcement of the regulations to improve compliance and reduce non-compliance, especially with regard to permit conditions.
The regulations further indicate that payment of water use charges is a major condition for the permit and a basis for suspension or revocation of the permit.
“The permit will automatically lapse if the holder fails to apply for renewal on expiry and the cancellation process will be immediately initiated”.
Users who reconnect abstraction facilities without consent from WRA after the authority disconnects an intake due to non-payment will be liable to a fine not exceeding Sh1 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both.
Those who have installed and used water from their own flood water storage facilities will be entitled to a waiver of the premium payable if the storage equals or exceeds 90 days of water demand, otherwise, the premium payable will be calculated on a pro-rata basis.
The Authority has been mandated by Regulation 88 (1) to charge arrears in the event a permit holder or person required to have a permit has not paid water use charges which may go up to six years of the water use charges accruing.
A source within the Authority who did not want to be named as is not authorised to speak to media told Nation that the implementation plan had not been scheduled for February and only came up following the recent directive from the concerned Ministry.
“We cannot implement without a directive and that just came recently. I agree that users have been ambushed but that should not be an excuse because the regulation has been in place since 2021,” the source said.