CONSERVATOR PAYBACK

Compensate stewards of water sources

In Summary
  • Managing the watershed that supplies the water in the first place is a key component of the entire water service chain
  • Why should they watch as the water they work hard to protect flow into other towns and yet their environment remains dusty with no water for use?

Clean water is a priority. This need is not restricted to traditionally arid and semi-arid areas where water scarcity is a cyclical problem. In the central parts of Kenya, where water is seen to be plentiful, climate change and human activities are having an ever-growing impact on water supply.

For far too long the efforts many people such as small-scale farmers, local community groups and water resource users’ associations have made to protect the sources upstream of key water reservoirs that supply cities, have been neglected and their contribution to water security downplayed.

Now is the time to adapt the ‘polluter pays’ principle and apply it to protecting water sources. The principle says that whoever pollutes must be made to pay for the damage the pollution causes. I also believe that whoever conserves must enjoy a payback.

So, I propose the ‘conservator payback’ principle, to balance the costs and rewards of protecting the water we all need, especially as climate change increases.

Those who are conserving the environment, protecting water sources that many others use, and storing carbon to help tackle climate change, need to be commended and encouraged to continue so that there is sufficient water for the country.

Nyandarua is a water-rich county supplying many parts of the nation: Nairobi, Naivasha, Gilgil and Kabarak, among others. Our Lake Olbollosat feeds the entire stretch from Laikipia to Wajir. At 2,340 metres above sea level, the lake is the only natural water mass in the former Central province.

In all this, the generous people of Nyandarua are managing the politics of water while conserving our environment. To us, managing the watershed that supplies the water in the first place is a key component of the entire water service chain. It cannot be considered in isolation.

Though rivers are shared national resources, government, corporations and people of goodwill should invest to ensure that those who protect these natural resources get something back so they enjoy the fruits of what they forego for their conservation efforts.

There is a programme already underway in Nyandarua that shows how this conservator’s payback can work: the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund. The model, started by the government with private companies, seeks to ensure sustainable water quality and quantity for all using the ‘abstractors pay’ principle.

Together with the Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation, we are exploring ways in which the county can be allowed to put up water treatment plants with partners such as the World Bank to ensure that water sourced from Nyandarua and received in other towns is treated at source. By installing upstream reservoirs, we can ensure that Sasumua Dam remains full while communities in the area receive water for domestic use and irrigation.

In this way our county can make some money from the resource, and the people of Nyandarua can get some payback for their conservation efforts through interventions such as major dams or other corporate social investments to safeguard their continued support.

Why should they watch as the water they work hard to protect flows past them into other towns and yet their environment remains dusty with no water for personal use or irrigation?

There is a programme already underway in Nyandarua that shows how this conservator’s payback can work: the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund. The model, started by the government with private companies, seeks to ensure sustainable water quality and quantity for all using the ‘abstractors pay’ principle.

Major water users or abstractors downstream pay to compensate those who take care of the sources and invest in conservation upstream. The UTNWF has been operational since 2015 and a Memorandum of Understanding with Nyandarua was formalised in August 2020, through a conservation partnership with The Nature Conservancy. An expert in water funds, TNC pioneered the model and now supports more than 40 water funds around the world.

In Nyandarua, nearly 4,000 farmers are benefitting from UTNWF activities such as construction of rainwater harvesting water pans, planting grass strips, building terraces, rehabilitating dams and planting trees for agroforestry. Our tree cover has increased to nearly 30 per cent. This shows it can be done.

The ‘polluter pays’ principle is already recognised in our Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act. If we now enact stronger water policy and legislation to adapt this for water protection, it will create a win-for-all ‘from the top to the tap’ and stronger linkages from the source to the user.

Governor, Nyandarua county