On Going Local is a new (short) series that I’ll be running which will attempt to look at my life from an objective perspective as I transition from and NGO worker into an entrepreneur here in the developing world.

When I first arrived here in S’land, and I would go out to eat, I would use the minimum amount of water possible to wash my hands before and after eating with them.  It is desert afterall.  But later, towards the end I realized that I had adapted and was using more water – letting the water run as I was soaping, washing my face also.  It was never a conscious decision, I just started using more water.

But here at the house, I have always remained conscious of how much water we are using – primarily because at the house we have to pay for the water and it is EXPENSIVE. It is desert afterall.

So I just wanted to share a bit about how the water works.  Here in Hargeisa we have a decent supply of water, but it is getting strained by the continuing population growth of the city.  There is this beautiful area about 30 km to the north of Hargeisa, in the Golis Mountains where most of the water comes from.  One of the main problems is that the area is a couple hundred meters of elevation lower than Hargeisa.  That means PUMPS generators performing the difficult job of getting the water up here to Hargeisa.

The Hargeisa Water Agency has identified two other locations which could supply Hargeisa and both are higher and would require less pumping power.  The problem is getting the infrastructure built.  The Agency has a difficult time amassing enough capital to even upgrade the pipe network from the original series of wells into Hargeisa.

Once the water gets to Hargeisa then it gets routed to different zones.  Typically one or two zones within Hargeisa will get water on a given night, and then the Agency will rotate zones over the course of the week.  Once the water is released to the zones then the zone manager is responsible for routing it into particular customers of the agency.

The irregularity of the water supply means that most compounds have built their own water reservoirs and then we watch these like a hawk.  Our reservoir is underground.  Because it is a totally passive system, what we have to do is each day we check supplemental tanks which are on the highest part of the house.  These tanks provide the house with water pressure, but do it passively.

Pretty much each day we pump water from the underground reservoir to the upper holding tanks.  This means that we only have to use the electricity to pump the water up once a day rather than running it continuously (which is important because electricity is also EXPENSIVE).  The system works quite well most of the time.

The only problem comes when we let the upper holding tanks run dry.  What happens (because the system is passively pressurized) then is that air runs down through the water lines in the house.  After we fill the upper holding tanks the air pressurizes from the weight of the water above it and keeps the water from flowing through the plumbing system.

Many of you living in Africa may have experienced this problem.  So here is what you do when the water won’t flow through your house.  You go to the bottom most taps in your system and open all of them that you can find.  This will bleed the air pressure from the system.  When those taps are running well, then you can go upstairs and turn one a couple of taps.  This should bleed the rest of the air from the system and then water should fill all of the lines.  Then you have to run around the house turning off all of the taps because you hate wasting water!  You may have to fiddle with your hot water heaters (if you are lucky enough to have them) as they sometimes become a hassle to bleed.

But this is a small hassle – and after a while it becomes second nature to bleed the lines when you know that the upper tanks have run dry.  This is one of my favorite parts of living in the developing world.  You are forced to learn about the world around you which you so often take for granting living in the developed world where you never have to understand fluid dynamics and watershed elevation limitations in order to take a shower!

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