01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink.... 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink....

At the weekend, whilst looking at our swimming pool that was positively brimming over as a result of heavy rainfall, we had a bright idea. Since the City Council had not sent water to us for two weeks and all the house tanks were empty, we thought; why not siphon some excess water from the pool?

There are various methods of getting your hands on water in Nairobi but none of them are particularly cheap or easy. For Nairobi householders, the fact that water is a precious resource is brought into sharp focus on an almost daily basis.


1. Some apartment blocks or town house complexes draw water from boreholes that the owner/developer has had dug themselves. Digging a borehole costs a lot (a few million shillings) and nowadays you have to go very deep to ensure that the water table does not fall below the depth of your borehole in the long dry season. Our neighbour sunk a borehole just before building six houses in his garden. The noise of the machinery digging through layers of earth and rock was deafening. As a result of so many boreholes being dug, the water table in our area is slowly dropping.

There are also rumours that borehole water is very high in fluoride which can play havoc with young teeth.


2. Other householders with no direct access to running water might buy a 10 thousand litre truck load of water on a more or less on a bi-weekly basis, depending on consumption. The water is pumped noisily from the truck into your ground tank. The cost of this water (that invariably has been taken from someone else’s borehole) is around three thousand shillings per tanker or ‘bowser’. You can’t miss these blue trucks on the road, belching out smoke from their exhausts, labouring up hills and splashing water onto the tarmac at the same time.

When we need to buy a bowser of water, I usually give the delivery men a cup of tea. It’s worth keeping them on side – a day or two with no water can seem like a lifetime.

City Council Supply

3. If you are connected to a fruitful supply of City Council water (as we are) then you are onto a winner, however, the supply is patchy at best. City Council water is treated and pretty clean but they generally pump to your house only once or twice a week, sometimes only a trickle comes through, sometimes nothing, and very occasionally, more than we can possibly store.

So back to the weekend dilemma.

‘Swimming pool water would be fine for bathing in, flushing loos, washing clothes.’ I said to my husband on a rainy Sunday afternoon. He agreed.

Quickly enough (and after three attempts) he devised a method of siphoning water from the pool into our ground tank through the swimming pool vacuum pipe.  Pool water gushed into the ground tank satisfyingly. In fact it was steaming, since (thanks to solar heating) the pool water is warm.

It was only on Monday that I realised the error of my ingenious plan. We use a salt water system to chlorinate our pool. In spite of boiling and filtering, my tea was rather salty, so was the gardener’s.

‘If we have to use bottled water to drink, cook and wash food in,' I said to my husband, feeling slightly ruffled,  'then saving the three thousand bob on a water bowser delivery is going to be a bit of a false economy!’

‘Well how much is a 20 litre bottle of drinking water anyway?’ My husband asked.

‘Five hundred shillings....a bit less.’ I groaned.

‘Hmm.’ The maths spoke for itself.

The next day saw us siphoning the now cold water back from the ground tank and into the pool. Thanks to forces of gravity, this was a more complex system, with a necessity to make use of hose pipes and the antiquated electric pump that normally delivers water to our roof.

Today the bowser men came. Fresh water, hooray! I made them a cup of tea....from mineral water. Am not sure how long it’s going to take to get the salt water out of our system.

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