Improving access to safe drinking water for Kyzyl-Kiya city residents
On a scorching June afternoon, I find myself in a car, heading towards the Isfairamsai water intake facility half an hour outside Kyzyl-Kiya, a city of 55,000 people in the southern Kyrgyz Republic. Kyzyl-Kiya was an industrial coal-mining centre in the Soviet era; it now depends on commercial activity at local markets.
I am accompanied by 64-year-old Dykanbai Usonov, chief engineer of the Kyzyl-Kiya municipal water company since 2009. On the way, he explains with great passion how his city’s water supply system works and what its key challenges are. As we near the facility, I can’t help but notice its picturesque location in a gorge divided by the fast-running Isfairamsai river.
“There are only three water sources in Kyzyl-Kiya,” Dykanbai, a long-time city resident, tells me, “this river intake facility and two groundwater intakes. Almost 70 per cent of the drinking water comes from here, the rest from underground sources.”
Last year, Dykanbai’s company replaced four old pumps at the river facility with modern, high-capacity ones sporting smart control panels. At any given time, two pumps are in operation and two are on standby. The next step is to install automatic flow meters for the accurate measurement and regulation of public water from this source.
Isfairamsai’s water is piped to a water treatment plant closer to the city, from where clean drinking water is supplied to residents. At the two groundwater intake facilities, Kulushtan and Tak-Tek, the company has restored underground wells and installed flow meters and disinfection systems with automatic controls. In the past, workers had to undertake water chlorination manually.
None of these upgrades would have been possible without substantial funding. To this end, the water company received a €1.5 million loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), a €1 million loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and a €3.5 million grant from the European Union (EU).
The funds also allowed the company to carry out significant upgrades to the water treatment facility on the outskirts of Kyzyl-Kiya. It painted all of the plant’s pipes, parts and metal fittings, replaced all the valves, restored the gravity sand filters, installed backwashing pumps and built a new water reservoir with an automated disinfection system.
Earlier in the day, we had stopped by the water company’s offices on a street where dozens of day labourers waited patiently for anyone willing to hire them. Some years previously, a fire had destroyed the company’s headquarters. Since then, it has operated out of an old municipal building, with Soviet-era wall stoves hinting at its past amid its freshly renovated corridors and offices.
In his office, Dykanbai shows me a large municipal map, with streets highlighted in different colours ‒ a blueprint of the new water mains, complete with manholes and fire hydrants, stretching more than 32.5 km across the city.
“The infrastructure is outdated,” he says, “with some of the pipelines dating back to 1924 and 1952. Consequently, the old pipes have leaked badly, with drinking-water losses of up to 35 per cent!”
The upgrades will not fully solve the problem, as the entire water network is 364 km in length. Still, the new mains pipes will cut losses dramatically and residents’ daily water supply will be extended to six hours a day from two-three hours, significantly improving their quality of life. Specialised maintenance vehicles and repair equipment procured as part of the project are already in use, ensuring prompt responses to any issue that may arise and boosting efficiency.
“In the past, we had to ask other municipal enterprises or hire small businesses with specialised vehicles to help us,” Dykanbai says. “Now the mobile workshop trucks have all of the tools required to address any repair needs.” As someone in charge of fixing the water supply system, Dykanbai is understandably proud of his new fleet of repair vehicles.
He also shows me one of the 6,000 water meters soon to be installed in city households – an important element in the commercialisation of the water company’s operations. This will ensure its sustainable operation, including the payment of its loans and the development of its own infrastructure. With funding from Austria and Japan, experienced international consultants are helping the company to develop transparent policies on tariffs and to improve its reporting, accounting and collection of payments.
The project is quickly moving towards completion. The company is awaiting further finance from one of its partners and is planning to complete the installation of water meters to take advantage of the new supply pipes, install an additional 5 km of water mains, buy a water tanker and a pickup vehicle for repair crews and replace the mains pipe that runs from the Isfairamsai river to the city.
The project is quickly moving towards completion. As the final stage, the company is planning to complete the installation of water meters to take advantage of the new supply pipes.
“I view all of these infrastructural improvements as major milestones for our city and the water company,” Dykanbai says. “It really makes me happy to see how they benefit Kyzyl-Kiya residents."