More cash needed to save water towers

Vital resource that regulates climate, stores water, recharges groundwater, controls soil erosion, reduces flooding, conserves biodiversity

In Summary

• About  90 water towers have been identified, 18 of which are gazetted.

• Development budget for the Kenya Water Agency was reduced from Sh459 million to Sh261 million, making securing water towers less likely.

Maasai Mau Forest.
DENUDED: Maasai Mau Forest.

Denuded, shorn of trees and vegetation, overcultivated, overgrazed, overbuilt and  prone to droughts and deadly mudslides.

That's what's happened to most of Kenya's once-great water towers.

Water towers regulate climate, pump out oxygen, store water, recharge groundwater, regulate river flow, mitigate flooding, control soil erosion, reduce siltation of water bodies, purify water, conserve biodiversity, store carbon, recycle nutrients and form soil.


Some water towers are left and desperately need of rehabilitation.

The Kenya Water Towers Agency says it needs more money to save and secure more water towers.

Agency acting director general Julius Tanui told the Star projects approved for 2020-21 include securing more water towers.

“Most of these resources will be used to secure more water towers," he said in an interview.

A process must be followed in the gazettement of water towers: assessing the level of degradation and the kind of rehabilitation needed. Sometimes they must be fenced off.

"Rehabilitation means taking them back to the original state,” Tanui said. And residents don't like that. 

Rehabilitated forests, however, support key economic sectors: energy, tourism, sustainable agriculture and livestock farming, as we as supplying water to urban centres and industries.


Established through an Executive Legal Notice in 2012, the agency coordinates and oversees the protection, rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable management of all the critical water towers.

About 90 water towers have been identified, 18 of which are gazetted. Some need rehabilitation. Some qualify as new water towers.

On June 11, Treasury CS Ukur Yatani allocated Sh540 million to enhance tree planting across the country using locally sourced seedlings.

The development budget for the Kenya Water Agency was reduced from Sh459 million to Sh261 million, making securing water towers less likely.

The agency had requested Sh700 million for development.

A lot of public participation is needed before water towers can be secured and rehabilitated because human activities have degraded them through illdgal timber felling, charcoal burning, livestock farming, over-cultivation and other activities.

“We work with communities because they are the best protectors of these water towers," Tanui said. 

Tanui said Kaptagat is where they propose to create a water tower as an indigenous forest. When it is converted into indigenous forest, which takes many years, the element of degradation by humans is reduced.

“People have no business going inside and harvesting trees,” he said.

Much has been accomplished in the five major water towers - Mt Elgon, Mau, Cherangany Hills, Aberdares and Mt Kenya.

They provide about 75 per cent of Kenya's water resources.

“Aberdares does not have issues because it is one of the water towers that has been fenced off,” he said.

Marmanet now needs to be secured and rehabilitated, he said. Encroachment is extensive as large swathes of forest have been converted into commercial farms. 

The forest, which is an important water tower, originally was more than 48,400 acres but it has been reduced into commercial wheat and maize plantations.

The catchment area and source of water for Lakes Bogoria and Baringo feeds Ewaso Ngiro River also drains into the Lorian Swamp in northern Kenya. It has been virtually destroyed.

Illegal settlements, overgrazing of livestock, charcoal burning and other activities have ruined it.

Tanui said the Mount Elgon and Cherangany Hills also need to be rehabilitated.

“We have a multifaceted approach in trying to secure these water towers,” Tanui said.

The DG said the agency is currently looking for resources to fence off Maasai Mau.

“Nema has granted the certificate of environmental social impact assessment to give us comfort in terms of fencing,” he said.

The perimeter fence will run about 120km from Sierra Leone to Olkurto.

The area to be saved is home to elephants, leopards and giant forest hogs.

Tanui said the board has agreed to fence off Maasai Mau and  it is in the process of procuring fencing.

The Maasai Mau forest covers 114,355 acres.

The National Environment Management Authority says the fence will have five to 10 wires between heavy timber poles to restrain big game, antelope and carnivores.

The first phase of the evictions covered 1,772 households totalling 8,860 people.

They took place from July 6 to July 10 between the Nkoben River north boundary and Kosia.

About 3,000 head of livestock were removed but crops were spared.

About 11,119 acres were recovered.

A survey in 2008 of 7,971 households showed more than 30 per cent had no documents to support their occupation.

Last year, illegal settlers vacated after a 60-day window for them to voluntarily move out lapsed on October 30.

During the second phase, about 22,000 acres were recovered.

The government wants  to plant about 10 million trees in the water tower.

(Edited by V. Graham)