KURESOI, Kenya, April 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A
dam being built on the edge of Kenya’s largest water catchment
is drawing criticism from experts who fear it could threaten
water supplies in the country as much as supplement them.
The Itare Dam will be the largest water supply project in
the southern Rift Valley, and is intended to shore up water for
the city of Nakuru and nearby villages as drought hits Kenya
The dam, and the 700-acre (280-hectare) reservoir that will
be formed behind it, will be in Kuresoi, at the northern edge of
the Mau Forest Complex, Kenya’s largest water catchment.
Construction of the 57m-high (187 feet) dam began in June
2016. At a cost of 38 billion Kenyan shillings (about $370
million), it is one of the flagship water supply projects under
Vision 2030, the Kenyan government’s national long-term
The government says that the dam, due to be completed in
2020, will supply 100 million liters of water a day to 800,000
people in Nakuru and surrounding villages east of the Mau
Complex, via a 114km (72-mile) pipeline.
But despite the benefits of a better water supply, as well
as the jobs and improved roads predicted to come with the dam’s
construction, experts and local people complain that the project
could also end up reducing water supplies for downstream rivers
and affecting the region’s wider water availability.
Stephen Laboso, whose land borders the dam site, serves on a
committee formed by local people to provide input on the project
to the Rift Valley Water Service Board. He said that once the
construction area is fenced off, it will be hard for members of
the community to access the Ndoinet River and surrounding
springs for water.
“As they construct the dam, dust deposits on the water and
(it) becomes dirty, (and) locals are forced to look for (an)
alternative source of water,” Laboso said. “They should also
consider giving the community alternative sources of water.”
The chair of the Itare Dam Water Project, Michael Kipruto
Sang, said that project managers were in constant contact with
the Rift Valley Water Service Board to address issues as they
But experts say the larger environmental impact of the Itare
Dam is the bigger worry.
LESS WATER DOWNSTREAM?
The Mau forest is the largest source of water in Kenya.
Twelve rivers originate from it, serving the fragile Mau Mara
Serengeti ecosystem, which supports the Maasai Mara National
Reserve, an international tourist attraction, as well as the
Lake Victoria Basin to the west.
Paul Orengoh, coordinator of the Water and Ecosystem
Management Centre at Research Triangle Institute, a think-tank,
believes that construction of the dam will have a negative
impact on the entire Mau Mara Serengeti ecosystem.
“This is a soft poison because it is directly going to
impact on downstream, gradually killing the biodiversity within
and outside the forest (and) posing a serious danger to the
sustainability of the Mara Serengeti ecosystem,” Orengoh
He said that a major project like the new dam should have a
5-10km (3-6 mile) buffer zone around it to protect the natural
systems that help the Mau forest supply water to downstream
“More water will go to the dam and less water to the
underground water aquifers. The dam is constructed using
concrete (and) hence doesn’t support groundwater recharge.
(This) means a decrease of water generating streams which feed
rivers like the Mara River,” Orengoh said.
The dam has sparked intense debate and criticism from the
council of elders of the Kalenjin tribe, which lives downstream
from the dam’s catchment area.
Council members say that downstream communities were not
adequately consulted about the project, and that they fear it
will bring adverse economic, social and environmental impacts.
William Ketienya, a member of the council of elders, said he
feared rotting vegetation on the land flooded by the dam will
increase greenhouse gas emissions and further drive climate
change and warmer temperatures that threaten tea plantations in
Agriculture and tourism are Kenya’s two leading economic
sectors, and both depend on supplies of fresh water. Tea
cultivation contributes 4 percent of Kenya’s GDP and 26 percent
of the country’s export earnings.
Joseph Mitei, a water engineer, said that all the rivers in
the Mau basin should have been assessed to measure their flow
and ensure that they would not receive significantly less water
after the dam is built.
Orengoh, of Research Triangle Institute, agreed, arguing
that the Rift Valley Water Service Board should have analysed
how water generated by the Mau forest supports agriculture,
tourism, and livelihoods in areas beyond Nakuru, and then
balanced the competing demands.
Government policy is supposed to integrate climate risk
management into water management initiatives such as the Itare
Dam Project, the experts said.
Carlos Cheluget, the Rift Valley Water Service Board’s
communications officer, said that the board had taken all
necessary steps, including hydrological surveys, environmental
impact assessments and establishing engagement structures to
involve local communities in decisions about the dam.
“In case of any issue, the committee alert us and we are
addressing it accordingly. At the moment we are in the process
of providing communities with alternative source of water
points,” he said.
(Reporting by Wesley Langat; editing by James Baer, Alex
Whiting and Laurie Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters
Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers
humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights,
trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)