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Vol 9 No 7

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Supply of Potable Water by SALWACO



This Performance Audit report is on the supply of potable water by SALWACO. The objective was to assess the extent to which SALWACO has contributed to improved water supply services in their specified areas of operation. The motive of the audit was the increasing concerns from government, donors and the general public with regards to the water supply situation in the country.

The SALWACO Act of 2001 confers on SALWACO the responsibility of developing and operating satisfactory water services at reasonable cost and on a self supporting basis in six specified areas.

The audit focused on three key issues: Sourcing, Treatment and Distribution of water. It covered four of SALWACO’s operational areas, namely Lungi and the cities of Kenema, Bo and Makeni. In each area, SALWACO’s stations and reservoirs were visited and contacts made with Local Councils and communities to obtain data and information on the operations of SALWACO.

Despite Sierra Leone’s abundant water resources, access to Raw Water has been problematic. During the dry season, existing Raw Water Reservoirs dry out and all the stations depend on water pumped from rivers or streams. We observed only one pump that seemed to function well at the time of our audit. As a consequence the treatment process has frequently come to a standstill. In some cases, notably in Bo, treatment had been stopped for several months and no water was distributed to the customers.

With the exception of Makeni station, the other three stations did not have equipped laboratories and water testing kits. Therefore, Bo and Kenema stations were unable to test the water to verify whether the treatment process had been successful and the water suitable for human consumption. Tests carried out on behalf of the auditors by SALWACO’s lab technician, indicated that the treated water met WHO standards in Lungi and Makeni.

SALWACO has not been efficient and effective in scheduling adequate maintenance and attending to issues of repairs of damaged pipes. This has impacted negatively on the supply of water through excess water wastage.Defunct Water Treatment Plant - Kenema

SALWACO has not been able to recover their operational costs from the revenue that they generate. From 2007 to 2010 water rates and charges covered less than 10% of total expenditure. The rates set by the Board have not been implemented. Rates set by the stations are generally higher than those set by the Board, but still not high enough to secure cost coverage. In spite of what is stipulated in the act there was only one utility meter for measuring water use, in all of SALWACO’s operational areas.

The failure to implement the act and provide clear guidelines to the stations is a reflection of weaknesses in SALWACO’s management structures.

To improve SALWACO’s performance the following issues should be addressed:

A Board in line with the criteria laid down in the Act should be appointed and key management positions filled. It is essential for SALWACO’s future role and development that the company is in a position to reap the maximum benefits from the capacity building support that is an integral part of the three-towns-project.

In order to ensure a sufficient intake of raw water to allow the treatment process to go on without unnecessary stoppages, SALWACO should make sure that existing equipment are in good working condition, and examine the prospects for increasing the capacity of raw water reservoirs at the respective stations should be considered.

SALWACO should regularly test the water they supply. Testing should be done before and after treatment and when it is delivered to the customers. Immediate action should be taken whenever the results indicate that the water is not potable.

SALWACO should conduct regular maintenance of the treatment works, the distribution networks and the reservoirs as to prevent breakdowns and damage caused by poor maintenance.

SALWACO should review their rates with a view to providing water services at a self-supporting basis in the long run, in order to achieve this, the water utility meter system should be implemented in accordance with the Act to ensure that commercial and other clients pay a fair amount for their consumption.



3.1 Kenema

Kenema station had a defunct Degremont water treatment plant at the Moa River and fourteen raw water reservoirs where water was treated. The audit team visited the defunct water treatment plant at Moa and one of the functional water treatment works.

Kenema station operates a drip-feed chlorination method of treatment and supply the treated water by means of the gravity into the distribution system. The main water works in Kenema were constructed during the 1980’s and most of the pipes laid in the 1960’s.

Even before the war the water supply situation had deteriorated and the installations needed extensive rehabilitation.

3.1.1 Failure to access water from the Moa River

Kenema has an abundant source of raw water at the Moa River. Due to technical constraints, linked to the defunct Degremont plant, the station is unable to access that water. Instead it relies on the underground raw water sources of the Kambui Hills that feed into the raw water reservoirs. Only eight of those reservoirs were functional at the time of our visit.

Water supply from this source is seasonal due to fluctuations in the water table of the Kambui Hills. Thus there was sufficient water supply during the rainy and insufficient supply during the dry season.

The capacity of the functional reservoirs at the catchment points was inadequate for storing sufficient amounts of raw water to last through the dry season. It was also observed that the dams were not covered or fenced with mesh or wires, thereby exposing the water to leaves falling from surrounding trees and human activities such as tree cutting, gold mining, walking along the dam’s pavement, etc.

3.1.2 Inadequate treatment and no testing

The Kenema station is the only station in the country that uses the so called drip feed treatment method for treating the raw water. This method involves the introduction of alum into the raw water at the intake reservoirs after it has cleared and settled naturally.

The water then filters into the sub component of the reservoir where chlorine, drip fed from containers dipped in the water, disinfects it. The treated water is then pumped to an overhead service tank from where it is supplied to the consumers by gravity.

It was observed that after the Degremont plant broke down in 1983 it had never been rehabilitated, repaired or maintained. According to the network supervisor the treatment plant, if not for its dysfunctional state, would have been able to efficiently and effectively supply sufficient potable water to the entire city.

The auditors observed that the treated water was not tested before distribution to the consumers. The station did not have the required testing kits. Nor did it have a furnished laboratory to carry out water quality tests.

At the request of the auditors water samples were collected by SALWACO’s lab technician and brought to Freetown for analysis at SALWACO’s testing laboratory at Tower Hill.

Samples were taken from two end users at different locations in the town. The analysis revealed that both samples contained E. coli (45 and 50 units respectively), as well as faecal coliforms (10 and 20 units respectively). It was not possible to verify whether the bacteria remained in the water after treatment or entered later during the distribution process.

3.3.1 Late repairs and poor revenue collection

Over the years, the gravity water supply system of the existing water works at the Kambui Hills has been used to supply water to places that are on relatively low lands and those close to the source of supply within the township.

The capacity of the service reservoirs for treated water at the Kenema station has been estimated to 1,583m3. According to SALWACO’s technical director this is not enough to ensure a continuous distribution of potable water to consumers in situations of high demand or temporary halts in the operation of the treatment works.

Depending on the availability of requisite materials, minor repairs are normally done within two to three days. Interviews with the station manager revealed however that most times there are no available spare parts to repair major damages. This frequently causes serious delays. There was for example a major damage that occurred on the galvanised pipes at Lambayei Avenue where the pipes were reported damaged in November 2008 and repaired only in August 2010.

A review of the repair and maintenance ledger revealed that the recording system only takes cognisance of the dates that the damages were repaired and not when they occurred. The absence of records stating the date the damages occurred made it impossible for the auditors to determine the average length of time that elapsed between the time of the damage and the time taken before it was repaired.

The station manager explained that the station follows a weekly schedule for maintenance on the main supply pipes and the network system. The activities include cleaning of air valves and washout of service reservoirs for treated water.

There was no measuring of the quantity of potable water supplied to the consumers.

There were no utility meters, not even for institutions and commercial concerns as stipulated in the Act, and this lack prevented SALWACO from determining the quantity of water each individual consumer utilised or wasted over a particular billing period.

The Billing Officer disclosed that billing was based on the number of water points (i.e. taps) in a household or at an institution or commercial concern. Each tap was charged at Le 15000 per month. This rate is not in line with the rates set by the Board some five years ago. Those rates were set as per consumer at Le15000 per month for domestic consumers or institutions like schools and hospitals, and at Le25000 per month for commercial concerns. According to our interviews, there was also poor revenue collection as a result of customers’ unwillingness to pay their bills which in turn was blamed on the irregularity in supply.

3.2 Bo

This station operates a Degremont water treatment plant that is situated at Gelehun, seven miles from Bo city. The audit team visited this plant and the treated water service reservoir in the city. Water is treated mechanically at the treatment plant and pumped to the overhead reservoir in Bo from where it is supplied by gravity to consumers.

3.2.1 No water pumped from river Sewa

Bo station has access to an abundant and reliable source of raw water from River Sewa at the Gelehun intake point. There is a pump powered by an electric motor to pump raw water from the river into a raw water reservoir between the intake point and the treatment plant. From that reservoir water should be fed into the treatment plant for treatment. Physical inspection by the auditors revealed that the raw water reservoir was no longer in use and that raw water was to be pumped directly from the river into the treatment plant. At the time of our visit in November 2011 the electric pump had been broken for a couple of months bringing the treatment plant to a standstill.

3.2.2 Treatment plant at a standstill

The treatment plant was not operating at the time of our visit due to the broken raw water pump. Interviews with the plant manager disclosed that the plant was normally functional though not as effective as when it was established in the 1980s. He stated that the plant was designed to treat 360m3 of raw water per hour but due to wear and tear, coupled with periodic breakdowns, the actual capacity was considerably less.

According to the plant manager the set treatment procedures with the five steps of coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration and disinfection were strictly followed when the plant was running.

The laboratory within the treatment plant was not functional because of a lack of reagents and testing kits and there was no laboratory technician stationed in Bo.

According to the plant manager a technician from headquarters come with reagents from time to time to conduct water quality tests and give advice. It was not possible to determine the quality of any treated water at the time of the audit since the plant was not in operation.

3.2.3 Main pipe broken

Interviews with the station manager revealed that the station had one reservoir for treated water with a capacity of about 130m3. He stated that to meet the water need of the growing population, more reservoirs with similar capacity would be required.

The station manager disclosed there were no scheduled times for maintenance of the systems. Maintenance was done as and when necessary, usually every three to six months. He also stated that preventive maintenance activities such as changing of filters, engine oil and batteries were carried out when the need arise.

According to the maintenance supervisor minor repairs were usually addressed within two days. The station manager stated that major repairs which depended on the availability of materials, sufficient labour strength, mobility and communication often were delayed. It was observed at our visit in November 2011 that one of the main pipes had been broken for months.

The station had no functioning water tanker of its own. Interviews revealed that there is a memorandum of understanding between the Bo city council and SALWACO for the use of the Council’s water tanker on a cost recovering basis. The cost of 1500 liters of potable water supplied by the tanker was Le 60,000.

Interviews with the Billing Clerk revealed that there were no utility meters in Bo. Water rates did not conform to the rates established by the Board. They were set so that the first water point, usually a stand pipe, was charged at Le 15,000. Supplies to overhead tanks were charged based on the capacity of the tank. All other water points, including wash hand basins, showers, etc were charged at Le 10,000 each per month.

3.3 MakeniMakeni Water Treatment Plant

This station operates a Degremont water treatment plant that was rehabilitated in March 2011 after having been vandalised during the war. The treatment works, the raw water reservoir and reservoirs for treated water are situated at the foot of the Wusum hills close to the city. Treatment activities are done mechanically and the treated water is pumped to the overhead steel and concrete reservoirs from where it is supplied by gravity.

3.3.1 Abundant access to water, but broken generator

This station had access to abundant raw water for treatment. Raw water was sourced from the Mabole River at Konsho intake point which is five miles away from the town.

The station manager stated that during the rainy season raw water was harvested from the catchment area into the raw water reservoir and during the dry season it was pumped from the river into the same reservoir from where it was pumped to the treatment plant. The station had two generators for the raw water pump that was needed for pumping water from the river during the dry season. One had been completely broken for a long time. We were not able to verify the condition of the other generator since it was not being operated at the time of our visit.

The station manager disclosed that the raw water reservoir had a capacity of about 6800m3 which was sufficient for running the treatment plant without risking any shortages of water.

3.3.2 Treated water of good quality

Apparently, the treatment plant at this station was vandalised and made dysfunctional during the rebel war. Physical inspection confirmed that the rehabilitation works on the treatment plant and on the Braithwaite overhead service tank were completed in March 2011. Since then the plant had functioned well.

Physical observations and interviews with the former regional engineer revealed that water treatment processes and procedures were strictly followed as set out in standard water treatment procedures.

The station manager revealed that the station has a functioning laboratory with water testing kits and other reagents which were used to test for water PH and chemicals composition of the treated water before supply.

Water quality tests carried out in Freetown, by SALWACO’s lab technician, in November 2011 on collected samples of raw and treated water (before distribution to the consumers) showed no indications of E. coli or faecal coliforms. The test values were in conformity with the WHO recommended permissible limits for treated water.

3.3.3 Repairs on pipes normally carried out promptly

Interviews with the station manager disclosed that there were two reservoirs for treated water with capacities of 400m3 and 1600m3 respectively. He further stated that due to the increase in the population, there was need for an additional reservoir with a capacity of 1400m3.

Rehabilitated treatment plant - Makeni

The station manager stated that minor repairs were done within a day. Major repairs, depending on the nature and timely availability of materials, could take a week. If there were no lacks or delays in accessing materials, major repairs would be done in two days. The maintenance officer disclosed that prior to June 2010, minor repairs lasted for a week and major repairs lasted for a month.

According to the station manager, routine maintenance of the treatment plant and raw water intake generator should be carried out every three months. Also, routine maintenance of the air valves in the form of greasing, cleaning and fixing up should be done every six months.

The station did not have a water tanker; but it collaborated with the city council for the use of the council’s tanker to supply water in bulk to consumers who paid the service charges direct to the council.

The auditors noted that there were no consumer utility meters in Makeni. The station manager revealed that billing was based on the number of water points a consumer has in a household. We observed that rates set by the Board were not implemented in Makeni. The first water point (stand pipe) was charged at Le.15,000 and all other points at a rate of Le 10,000 each plus a general service fee of Le 5,000 monthly.

3.4 Lungi

This station has two sub-stations at different locations and with different treatment facilities. The sub-stations are located at Sanda and Banda. Sanda has a Degremont treatment plant and at Banda raw water is treated in reservoirs. After treatment the water is pumped into overhead service reservoirs from where it is distributed by gravity.

3.4.1 Sourcing problems during the dry season

At the Banda sub-station raw spring water was collected into the concrete treatment reservoir through a system of underground channels in the catchment area. Water continuously dripped into this reservoir via the channels. The capacity of the reservoir was about 364m3. According to interviews there was an abundant flow of raw water during the rainy season. During the dry season, when the water table falls, it was necessary to wait for a minimum of two days before the reservoir was full enough for the treatment process to commence.

Raw water for the Sanda sub-station was pumped from the Sanda stream and from drilled wells in the nearby swamps. According to the pump attendant this substation has access to abundant raw water during the rainy season. Shortages did however occur during the dry season. Water was pumped directly into the treatment plant and there was no reservoir for storing raw water before treatment.

3.4.2 Acceptable treatment in spite of old equipment

Due to the fact that the raw water at the Banda sub-station was from a spring source, it did not undergo a sophisticated treatment process. Once the raw water had settled in the reservoir (clear water tank), alum and lime were added to treat the water. After filtration and chlorination the treatment was complete and the water pumped to steel overhead tanks for distribution by gravity to the consumers. Interviews with the pump attendant revealed that this substation was vanda-lized during the rebel war and rehabilitated after it was taken over by SALWACO in 2001.

The Sanda substation operated a Degremont treatment plant. Treated water was pumped to an overhead concrete service reservoir from where it was distributed by gravity. Physical observations revealed that the treatment plant is very old with most of the parts not in a good condition. According to information during interviews, the set treatment procedures were carefully and strictly followed at both substations.

There was no equipped laboratory and water testing kits. The pump attendant at Sanda stated that the existing laboratory was destroyed during the rebel war and has been defunct since then.

At the auditors’ request two water samples were taken and brought to Freetown for analysis by SALWACO’s lab technician. The tests showed that there were E. coli and faecal coliforms present in the raw water. These bacteria had however been removed during treatment and when the treated water was pumped into the overhead tanks it met all the standards set by WHO.

3.4.3 Lack of material for repairs and low water rates

The capacities of the two reservoirs for treated water are 654m3 for the steel over head tank at the Banda sub-station and 590m3 for the concrete reservoir at the Sanda substation.

The station manager stated that more reservoirs with similar capacities were required to meet the increasing demands of the growing population.

According to the station manager minor repairs would be carried out within a maximum of two working days and major repairs within two weeks, provided the necessary materials were available. He pointed out that the major causes of the delays in repairs are the procurement process at head quarters, untimely availability of funds to procure materials for minor repairs and the unavailability of certain major repair materials.

The station manager disclosed that the maintenance crew normally carried out routine maintenance on the treatment plants every three months. These maintenance works involve changing the engine oil, filters and greasing of the fittings and equipments. The senior plumber informed the team that maintenance work on the network is done every six months.

According to the accounts assistant the station had a water tanker that was used as a complementary means for supplying treated water to residents at a reasonable cost. He also stated that individual consumers rarely made use of the tanker service because few of them possess home reservoirs where they can store the water.

The station operated only one utility meter that had been installed at the Sierra Leone Airport Authority (SLAA).

The Account and Administrative Assistant revealed that billing was based on household water points and that the rate charged for the first water point was Le 15,000 and any other water points are charged at Le 5,000. Thus the water rates in Lungi are lower than the rates charged in the other specified areas and different from the rates set by the Board.


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