Kericho County residents are suffering due to climate change and destruction of the South West Mau Forest complex, a vital water catchment area. The forest is the source of River Timbilil, the main intake for the county water system managed by Kericho Water and Sanitation Company (Kewasco).
In the past, the river’s currents roar could be heard from a distance. Today, it barely makes a sound.
The width and depth of the water have since reduced, exposing the rocks that used to be buried deep in the river’s belly.
Dr Kipkurui Lang’at, the Sustainable Landscapes chairperson, says at least 20ha of the forest complex have been destroyed over the last 20 years.
“Though in the mid-2000s the government evicted some illegal settlers from the forest, at least 20ha out of the 6,000ha had been destroyed, leading to lack of water in Kericho,” Dr Lang’at said.
Kewasco’s Managing Director Mr Erick Siele says before the destruction of the forest, they could extract 140 litres of water per second, which translated to 14 million litres a day. “The volume of water has since dropped to less than 12 per cent,” says Mr Siele.
He says the low volume of water means Kewasco, which has over 21,000 water connections in the region, may no longer guarantee over 300,000 households constant supply of water.
“This has left us without an option, but to ration water. The company’s priority now is to supply the commodity to crucial institutions such as hospitals,” Mr Siele said.
According to Mr Siele, the company needs some 26 million litres of water per day to effectively serve the local population.
Kewasco’s board chairperson Ms Roselyn Ngeny says the forest has to be conserved to prevent the water taps from completely drying up. “The sustainability of the water provision in Kericho is dependent on the protection and conservation of the water catchment,” she said.
Mr Siele also warned that if the encroachment and destruction of the forest is not halted and a robust programme initiated to restore it for posterity, Kewasco will soon be unable to supply water to residents.
Dr Lang’at said through an initiative supported by the Dutch government’s IDH, they had over the last eight years been planting trees in the forest. He said the target to plant more than 1 million tree seedlings in 1,000ha by the end of 2022, to complement IDH’s aim to restore and conserve 60,000ha of forests by 2030.
“Though there is also natural regeneration in the forest, it is not good enough because we still have cattle grazing in there,” he said.
Dr Lang’at said the rivers do not come out of the South West of Mau forest complex but near Elburgon in Nakuru County.
“They pass through farmlands, where the riparian side has been completely degraded, with trees cut down. There is no protection of the springs,” he said.
“Timbilil river, in which, for instance Kewasco extracts its water, is not covered much by any forest. There is also a lot of siltation due to cultivation along the river bank, which is an outright flaunting of the law,” he added.
With River Timbilil on its death bed, Mr Siele said Kewasco now pins its hope on the completion of the Sh1.7 billion Kimugu water project funded by the national government and the German Development Bank. “The project will yield 13 million litres of water. It will bridge the gap of the current water demand that stands at 26 million litres per day,” he said.
Ms Ngeny said another solution would be to build a dam along the Kimugu River, which she appealed to the Kericho County government to facilitate.
“Currently we depend on rainwater. When this fails the water volume goes down. But if a dam is constructed to store the water, it will address the shortage to a reasonable percentage,” she said.
As Kewasco grapples with water shortage, a few lucky consumers are turning to acts by James Finlay tea firm, such as Seretut Water Spring Protection Project, Kipchobos Community Water Project, Chepinyonyoi Spring Conservation and Water Project, and Mosore Community Water Project.
Finlay’s Corporate Affairs General Manager Mr Sammy Kirui said the company invested Sh3 million in each of the projects, which cumulatively support over 100,000 households. “Over 300 households depend on each water project. Primary and secondary schools, dispensaries, shopping centres and towns around each project also benefit, especially during dry seasons,” said Kirui.
Out of the four projects, Chepinyonyoi Spring Conservation and Water Project located in Belgut Constituency have solar panels installed to pump water through a 70-metre steep terrain, to a drawing and animal watering and washing points.