DESPERATE TIMES

Doom and gloom as major rivers in Nakuru dry up

In Summary

• Large scale farmers accused of abstracting huge amounts of water from the drying up rivers. 

• Livestock farmers in all the 11 subcounties walk many kilometres in search of water and pasture for their animals.

A small patch of water is what remains of the once large and permanent River Molo
DROUGHT: A small patch of water is what remains of the once large and permanent River Molo
Image: /KNA

Thousands of Nakuru residents are staring at a disaster as rivers dry up because of the prolonged drought.

A survey in all the 11 subcounties in the county shows livestock farmers walk many kilometres in search of water and pasture for their animals.

The Water Resources Authority (WRA) has raised a red flag over the alarmingly ‘very low levels’ of water at Lake Naivasha. The water levels are dropping at a fast rate.

WRA Naivasha manager Geoffrey Mworia said inflows from River Malewa, which is the lake’s main tributary, had dropped sharply.

Two other key rivers – Karate and Gilgil – which drain into the lake, have completely dried up.

“Other small tributaries that guarantee the existence of Lake Naivasha are also at their lowest level. If it does not rain soon, then we are staring at a major threat to marine life at the water body,” he said. The lake is an economic mainstay for thousands of residents.

Lake Naivasha Water Users Association chairman Enock Kiminta said River Turasha, which is the main tributary for River Malewa, has also dried up.

In Rongai subcounty, more than 3,000 residents of Soin and Mosop wards are grappling with acute water shortages after rivers Rongai and Shawa dried up.

Soin MCA Irene Chebichi and her Mosop counterpart Daniel Mutai said the situation had been worsened by large-scale farmers upstream, who have diverted waters from the two rivers.

Hundreds of tomato farmers in the two wards are counting losses after their crops dried up.

Mutai said despite intervention by the Water Resources Management Authority (Warma), the management of large farming enterprises near Salgaa still divert water from the two rivers into their farms.

“River Shawa is on its deathbed. Rongai River dried up a long time ago, leaving residents of Soin and Mosop without water. The dry spell has affected every aspect of their lives," he said.

"It’s saddening to see women spend nights at one of the wells in this ward, where it takes about one hour to fill a 20-litre jerrycan.”  

The two MCAs urged the government to revoke licences allowing large farms and factories to harvest water from rivers in the county.

“Water harvesting in rivers should be controlled at all times. The government can also dig boreholes as one way of addressing the problem,” Chebichi said.

At Molo River, residents dig small holes in the dry riverbed, hoping that water can seep out. But they are not always guaranteed that the water will fill the holes.

“Many are times when we keep vigil on this river bank as we wait for the water to seep out of the dry river bed. We are accustomed to this desperate lifestyle. We have no choice," resident Mary Chepkeittany said.

Residents fear the situation will worsen and increase conflicts between different communities.

Nakuru director of environment Timothy Kiogora warned that his office will not hesitate to recommend criminal charges and cancellation of licences of companies that do not comply with rules governing abstraction of water from rivers.

“We will pay visits to companies that have diverted waters from rivers Rongai and Shawa in Rongai. The inspection on compliance will be extended to all the big plantations and factories operating in all other areas of our county,” Kiogora said.

The same scenario is replicated less than 20km where large scale farmers have abstracted water from River Molo. The river is gradually drying up.

Warma Rift Valley region manager Simon Wang'ombe said residents have lodged complaints following over-abstraction of water that has led to the river drying downstream.

Village elder Gideon Nduati said the water shortage that has gripped Molo sub-county was first witnessed in February, with water levels falling due to adverse weather conditions.

He said some residents walk more than 15km in search of water at a privately owned borehole run by a food and beverages manufacturing company.

“The situation is bad for all of us. But life is harder for women who walk long distances and stand in queues the whole day to get borehole water. Sometimes they have to wait for men to escort them back home at night due to security concerns,” Nduati said.

At River Njoro, which straddles Molo, Kuresoi South, Kuresoi North and Nakuru Town West subcounties, the drought and over-abstraction have caused it to completely dry up. The river drains into Lake Nakuru.

The river which serves as a drinking point for wildlife within the Nakuru National park has dried downstream. This has prompted the county government to partner with Egerton University and the World Bank towards restoring the river and the lake.

In Baruti, Kaptembwa and Ronda the situation is getting worse for residents who use the water from the river for domestic use. They dig holes on the dry river bed.

“The water we have been drawing from the holes is dirty. It often leads to waterborne diseases. But what do we do? Do we have any alternatives? We drink it knowing too well the dangers we are exposing ourselves to,” Kaptembwa resident Mercy Oira said.

She said since most children join their parents in search of water in the evenings, they do not do their homework.

“Sometimes we get home way past 9pm when the children are tired and hungry. This has hurt their concentration in class and performance in examinations. We have been pleading with both the county and national governments to provide us with water,” she said.

Meanwhile, a report by the National Environmental Complaints Committee shows major wetlands have been hurt by deforestation and water harvesting.

Committee secretary John Chumo said virtually all rivers in Nakuru are facing similar problems.

“We have received petitions from residents who have raised concerns over contamination and diversion of water in these rivers. We are investigating some  cases that have come to our attention," he said.

Residents said unless it rains soon, the remaining rivers in the county will be exhausted within the next few weeks.