Visions of Water, Visions of Life: ECAG in Kenya

africa, agriculture, community, drinking water, groundwater, ngo, visions of water, visions of life, water availability, water management

This is the second interview for the series Visions of Water, Visions of Life. Today’s interview is with Gibson Munanga. He is the director of an organization called Environmental Community Assistance Group (ECAG) working on water and land issues in rural Kenya. And, let me tell you, Gibson is one busy director. He works as a teacher at a school for the deaf. Somehow he still manages to find time to dream-up ideas, organize work parties, and implement a variety of projects to ensure water and land sustainability in his village.

Gibson and Kids
Above Photo: Gibson and students at Kakamega School for the Deaf.

Your organization originally started growing tree seedlings and working on land restoration projects. Can you please tell us why you decided to direct your focus towards water issues?

Our organization began and is still growing tree seedlings and working on land restoration projects. In the course of undertaking these, we encountered enormous challenges to finding water for irrigating the tree seedlings in preparation for planting during the rainy season. Water problems are a chronic issue here in the dry and rainy seasons. We have not shifted our focus, but we had to approach them [water and land restoration issues] at the same time because they go hand-in-hand. We left water problems to be addressed by ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNITY ASSISTANCE GROUP. The tree nursery and land restoration projects are handled by our co-organization called WESTERN TREE NURSERY, SEED COLLECTION, STORAGE AND VENDING GROUP.

What is the water situation in your village? What is the water situation in Kenya?

The water situation in our village is bad. People have to walk long distances in search of water. This mainly affects women and children (especially their standard of education and quality of life). The overall water situation in Kenya is worse. In Turkana, Pokot, Ukambani and other northeastern parts of Kenya near the border with Somalia, the search for water may take a whole day. It takes over a year for these places to receive rains, which may last only a week or luckily a month. This type of rainfall pattern can not support crop growth or open-water systems. It is rocky and expensive to drill for water in these areas. The water is very deep.

What do you believe is the solution to improve the water situation in your village?

The solution to improve the water situation in our village is to strategically situate boreholes in central places where water can be used easily by families. In addition, many trees were destroyed in most water catchments over twenty years ago. Water-catchment friendly trees should be planted in those areas because many small streams and rivers have dried up. The range of climate and rainfall in our village allows for rainwater harvesting. Provision of water-harvesting tanks would help to solve water problems here. Provision of water lorry tankers [see picture below] would help provide water to people during extreme water shortage events for a small fee.

Lorry Tanker
Above Photo: This is the type of water tanker that ECAG would like for their community.

Do you talk about water issues with your students at the school for the deaf? What do the children believe is the solution to improve the water situation in your village?

[The students are deaf so they wrote their answers on a chalkboard. Mr. Munanga took pictures of their answers with a camera. Please see the forthcoming post called Kakamega Youth Talk About Water Problems in Kenya.]

Has ECAG completed any significant water projects?

Six years ago ECAG constructed a very successful water project [well] at Alfred Amulyoto’s home (in Kambiri in the Kakamega District) to serve neighboring communities. Community members agreed to maintain the well pump through small donations. We constructed another successful water project [well] at Emily’s home (in Sichirayi) with the help from neighboring homes. Another water project [well] was constructed at Mr. Peter Matwanga’s home (in Khayega Village) which services a big homestead and 15 nearby homes.

What are a few other non-water projects that ECAG has completed?

We are producing tree-seedlings for planting in water-catchment areas. We are propagating medicinal trees for blood purification, stomach problems, malaria treatment, and other ailments. We are propagating fruit trees to alleviate hunger and provide vitamins, and we are propagating trees for firewood. In a nut-shell, trees are very much related to water, environmental issues and rainfall-storage quantity.

What is your advice for future generations on water?

My advice for future generations on water issues would be to conserve water and use it wisely, protect all water sources, and plant trees. Every drop of water counts!

For more information about ECAG or if you would like to make a donation, please visit their website here.

Integrated Lake Conservation in India: Umiam Lake

lakes, water management

Dropping water levels in Umiam (Barapani) Lake in the state of Meghalaya in northeast India are causing tension among competing water users. This lake was constructed as a reservoir for a hydroelectric project in the 1960s. It (and associated tributaries) provides water for power generation, agriculture, drinking water, and recreation.

Not only does this lake face dropping water levels – 39 feet over the last three years, to be exact – water pollution is also becoming a serious problem. Untreated sewage flows into the lake from streams and rivers that pass through the capital city of Shillong. Increased sediment enters the lake resulting from urban sprawl in Shillong. Construction of roads and buildings in the city cause soil erosion. And, because of the urban sprawl, poor farmers must change cultivation patterns which is also leading to rapid soil erosion. Lake problems are compounded by the fact that numerous stakeholders are responsible for different areas of management.

So, what is the solution?

One organization called People’s Learning Centre believes that bringing stakeholders together to plan integrated approaches for lake-water management might be the answer. On March 9 and 10, 2009, they hosted a conference (with the support of Arghyam) in Shillong to allow various stakeholders to discuss conservation strategies. Videos and presentations are now available on the India Water Portal.

Tap Project 2009 – PSA-a-thon Series

drinking water, outreach, PSA-a-thon Series, sustainability, united nations, water availability

Folks, it’s that time again. Time for another Public Service Announcement for the PSA-a-thon Series. Our fourth PSA in the series couldn’t be more timely. This PSA recognizes the upcoming TAP Project by UNICEF during World Water Week from March 22 to March 29, 2009. This project aims to raise money during the week in a simple way – ask restaurants to sell tap water for 1$ instead of bottled water. All proceeds raised will help UNICEF provide clean drinking water to children throughout the world. Did you know that 1$ can supply one child with safe drinking water for 40 days? So, check out the PSA. If you like it, get involved. Be a volunteer in your city and ask restaurants to participate, coordinate a walk for water, or raise money at your workplace.

Be sure and check out the first three PSAs featured in the series on rainwater harvesting in India,  the LA Tap Project, and a water-conservation campaign in Denver.

13-Gallon Challenge – WRAP UP

drinking water, international, outreach, sustainability

Well, I made it. Yesterday was the last day of my 13-Gallon Challenge. All told, this was a completely worthwhile project. I had two goals at the beginning of the challenge: 1) to better understand my daily water use habits, and 2) to understand how it feels to live on a human right allocation of 50 liters (13 gallons app.) of water each day. For the most part, I achieved these goals.

Over the week, I became intimately familiar with my daily water-use habits. Whenever I could, I tried to reduce or limit my water use. Even this morning (after the challenge), I couldn’t help but use the stop-watch again for my shower. See, habits really do die hard. Yet, living with indoor plumbing in an 1100 square-foot house, it would be difficult for me to ever approximate the life of someone in a developing country through this 13-Gallon Challenge. The water challenges that many people throughout the world face are much greater – think carrying water for eight-hours each day or human feces littered on the ground. But, at least I started educate myself and others about the water-access challenges that many endure.

Okay, I must admit I am a little happy to be done. Mostly, because I want to wash a load of laundry. Also, because it was difficult to calculate my water use every day for a week. First, I had to remember to write down my water use immediately after each usage. Then, I had to estimate each usage. Luckily, I settled on over-estimating each usage (rounding up) which made my calculations a bit easier in the long run. So, if I drank three cups of drinking water throughout the day, I would just write .25 gallons of drinking water. Remember, there are 16 cups in a gallon.

Here are my water use totals from yesterday.


Every day of my weekly water use totals will soon be posted on the 13-Gallon Challenge Page at the top of my blog. And it will also be a place for you to take a one-day version of the 13-Gallon Challenge. Check back soon.




drinking water, film, water availability

I’m not sure if you noticed, but water journalism is becoming the next big thing. And, you know, this is really great because it will encourage more people to pay attention to world water supplies, conserve water, work on water availability technology, and, generally, just become more aware about global water issues.

The University of Miami – School of Communication is interested in global water, too. They recently collaborated on a project called One Water. This website features a movie about global water supplies called One Water, youth curriculum about global water issues called KNOWATER, and a weppage for water journalism called


Denver Water – PSA-a-thon Series

PSA-a-thon Series

We’re back again with more great Public Service Announcements (PSAs) relating to water for the PSA-a-thon Series. The first two PSAs featured (on rainwater harvesting and the Tap Project) were great. But the third batch in the series is pretty fun, as well. Today’s PSAs were created by Sukle Advertising + Design for a Denver, Colorado water conservation campaign.

As an added bonus, here is another one of Sukle’s clever ways to teach people to conserve water.

Another about the shower.

And another about, ummm, drinking water.

Water from the Fissures: Conservation and Skyscrapers

architecture, groundwater, india, international, rainwater, sustainability

The new Bank of America Building at One Bryant Park in New York City is often billed as the “greenest skyscraper” in the world. Modeled after Four Times Square, another sustainable structure in the vicinity, the Bank of America Building recycles waste, air, water, and energy. This sustainable concept will result in a 50 percent decrease in potable water required for the building, as well as a reduction in stormwater output by over 95 percent. No small feat for the second largest building in New York City (just below the Empire State Building) scheduled to open sometime this year.

The Durst Organization, developer of the project, states One Bryant Park will be the “world’s most environmentally responsible high-rise office building, focusing on sustainable sites, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and energy and atmosphere.”

Such sustainable development will greatly lower water consumption. To meet LEED Platinum designation, for which this project strives, many measures will be implemented that focus solely on water conservation.

A living roof used to retain water during rain events, eliminate the need for stormwater retention, and regulate temperature in the building naturally. Additionally, rainwater will be collected for storage in four locations. This water will be used for flush toilets and a cooling system. Greywater will be treated and re-used for maximum net benefits.

Inside the building, waterless urinals and low-flow fixtures will decrease use of this precious resource. The waterless urinals alone will save over 3 million gallons of water each year!

In the basement, there will be 44 ice-tanks (each as big as a room) filled with treated greywater and frozen at night. These over-sized ice-cubes are a low-cost way to cool the building during the day as they melt.

And, as contractors excavated a large portion of the ground to build a solid base for the 54-story building, pockets of water were found in fissures of the rock. Instead of the usual pumping and dumping of this “fissure-water”, they were connected to a storage system in the base of the building. This groundwater, combined with steam condensation and air-conditioning condensation, will be mildly treated for use with flush toilets and the cooling system.

Water-savings at One Bryant Park are huge!

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection agrees. Accordingly, they reduced water-fees for the Bank of America Building by 25 percent. Overall, the Durst Organization states the project has been economically reasonable, with payback to occur in less than five-years and considerable long-term savings in water and energy costs.

It gives me hope to see massive high-rises implementing such sustainable building techniques. It affirms that technology is available and economically viable. If humans can build sustainable structures over 1,200 feet (366 meters) tall, then certainly we can build sustainable small buildings and homes. This makes me happy.

One Bryant Park is not the only superstructure on Earth implementing “green-building” techniques with such progressive methods of water conservation. This informative web-blog post, 15 Greenest Buildings in the World, on Geek About highlights fourteen others. There are many quick contenders around the world including the India Tower and the Residence Antilla in Mumbai.

Some of the background for this article came from the great series on PBS, ‘design – e2: the economics of being environmentally conscious‘.

Water Footprint and Virtual Water Trade

drinking water

With the recent advent of climate change into mainstream media, most individuals are aware of a concept called a Carbon Footprint. If not, I will let you know briefly, a Carbon Footprint is a measure of how much C02 a person produces by lifestyle choices.
A membrane
However, less popular, but no less important, is the concept of a Water Footprint. This concept calculates a measure of how much H20 a person utilizes by lifestyle choices, or average annual water consumption.

UNESCO-IHE and University of Twente in the Netherlands have been actively researching the concept of a water footprint, as well as the concept of virtual water trade. On their website, they have developed a tool that will calculate individual and country specific water consumption.

Calculate your total water consumption here.

       Photo courtesy, eisenrah on flickr.

Given my interest in water conservation, I decided to calculate my annual water-usage. Using the water footprint calculator, it was difficult to know if my entries of weekly foods in Kilograms were exact. However, after a little thought, I was able to accurately gage my edibles by the pound for conversion into Kg. My entries concerning home usage were much easier including showers, dishes, and yard-watering.

So, the grand total of my water usage, according to the Water Footprint Calculator is:

  • 707 cubic meters per year
  • .573 acre feet per year
  • 186,770 gallons per year

It is true that Americans, in general, have high water consumption. My annual water totals are indicative of this fact. It would be sobering to compare per capita water consumption in countries throughout the world. Although one thing is certain, I aim to decrease my annual totals, and it starts with my daily choices…

Southeast US: Exceptional Drought


This topic hits close-to-home. My home-state of Tennessee is experiencing the driest year on-record (18 inches less precipitation than normal), and the southeast US is experiencing a Class D4 or exceptional drought.

Officials estimate a large reservoir serving Atalanta, as well as northern Georgia, at approximately 90-days left of water. Georgia is requesting abeyance of supplying water to neighboring states, Alabama and Florida. In Tennessee, TVA recounts monetary losses from hydro-power at over $300 million. Voluntary and regulated efforts for water conservation are occurring throughout the region ranging from regulating water to in-house use to shutting down local car-washes. But it seems the southeast is just not prepared to handle the severe lack of water. We can only hope for an increase in precipitation for the region in the near future. More on the drought in the southeast, water-shortages in the southwest, and solutions to it all on the Gristmill.

Photo courtesy: Pouya Dianat/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Free Web-based Tool for Companies to Measure Water Use


This is really neat, and it was just unveiled at World Water Week in Stockholm in August 2007. It is the Global Water Tool, a free tool available for companies, organizations, or governmental agencies to measure water-use both at the place of business and through the supply chain. The tool is intended primarily for businesses with international reach, but would also be applicable for a smaller entities wishing to evaluate water consumption. The first step of conservation is having an accurate view of actual use. The tool includes a download portion using Excel and on-line mapping portion.