Even before Kenyans know what is ailing Ndakaini dam, a lifeline for the largest city in East Africa, Nairobi, residents of Murang’a County where it is located, want a share of the water.
The residents say despite the 70 million cubic metres capacity dam being right at the heart of the county, they don’t benefit directly from it.
While Nairobi residents hope the dam can get full for the rate of rationing to subside, locals in Murang’a and specifically those neighbouring it, have no interest.
Whether it is empty or full, it doesn’t matter.
“How can you own something that has no benefit to you?” Gatanga Member of Parliament Nduati Ngugi wondered, during a fact-finding mission by senior government officials at the dam on Wednesday.
Present during the meeting was Ministry of Water Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Winnie Guchu, Principal Secretary Joseph Irungu, Nairobi County Assembly Water Committee, top officials at Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company, among others.
And just like the rest of Kenyans, the MP said he too was concerned by the sluggish manner the water levels were increasing.
By Wednesday, the dam had 33.5 million cubic metres of water at 48.5 per cent up from 33.8pc April 25, 2018.
According to the dam managers, it is gaining one per cent on a daily basis.
“We are concerned as elected leaders of Murang’a, we have noticed that it has rained a lot and we are also wondering what is happening,” he said.
It is also in Murang’a County that the government has embarked on a massive water project dubbed the Northern collector which will supplement the amount of water being received from the three rivers filling the dam: River Thika, Githika, and Kayuyu.
“There is no way they are going to draw all this water and take it to Nairobi. We need a share of this, just 10 million litres which equate (sic) to about 6 per cent of the water. If they will not do that, we shall resist. Is it fair?” the legislator posed.
Thika River is the main supplier of water for Ndakaini at 50 per cent, Githika 30 per cent while Kayuyu only supplies 20 per cent.
“The community is ready and willing to support the national government but for locals to own this project, employ them so that they can own this project,” he said.
But what is ailing Ndakaini?
Acting Managing Director Engineer Nahashon Muguna said Ndakaini dam is meant to augment river flow, “since we draw most of the water for Nairobi from River Chania [whose supply is supplemented by Ndakaini in the dry season] it (Ndakaini) is the major source of water to Nairobi.”
When it is raining, he said, Chania River can provide 440,000 cubic metres of water per day; which is treated at Ngethu plant.
But for the last four years, Muguna noted that it is only for less than 7 days the dam received that kind of river flow.
For Ndakaini dam to get filled, it will take two rain seasons according to Muguna.
The big question remains, what is happening at the Aberdare catchment area?
The explanation of authorities and the metrological department is that following low rainfall amounts at the catchment area, it took longer to recharge the aquifers.
It is after the soil is saturated with rainwater, that the aquifers get recharged, forming tributaries that feed the rivers.
“It has been quite dry for those years,” he said. “It took a lot of time before you could have a runoff because all the rain in March and early April was going to saturate the soil and recharge the aquifers which had gone down completely…” Engineer Muguna said.
But since April 23, 2018 when the dam was ‘closed,’ he said the river flows have improved from 2.5 cubic metres per second to 7.8 cubic metres per second.
According to a Muguna, the Ndakaini dam had its lowest water levels in March 2017 at 14.8 million cubic meters.
That equates to 21 per cent.
The lowest levels this year was 21.2 cubic meters at 30 percent, on April 10, this year.
It is good to note that the country started receiving heavy rains in March.
But if the current trend continues, the authorities at Ndakaini say they expect the dam will build higher volumes to above 60 per cent by mid-July.
Nairobi requires about 750,000 cubic metres per day, a demand that grows by 200,000 cubic metres every year.
At full capacity, Ndakaini Dam can only supply 550,000 cubic metres but only 400,000 cubic metres is supplied to Nairobi because of the capacity issues at the Ngethu treatment plant.
No explanation seems to be enough and that is the reason Principal Secretary Joseph Irungu formed a task force, which will be required to establish why the water levels have remained low at Ndakaini Dam, the largest source of water for Nairobi, despite persistent heavy rains.
The task force will be required to look into all issues surrounding the management of the dam including degradation of the catchment area.
This follows worries that the levels of dam water remain drastically low, despite the heavy rainfall being experienced in the country.
“We must know what is ailing this dam,” the PS said.
The task force will include representatives from the water Ministry, Nairobi and Murang’a Counties, Athi Water and Sewerage Company, Nairobi City Water, and Sewerage Company among other stakeholders.
Engineer Samuel Halima will lead the probe, set to be done in two months.
“We want the task force to start working right away. We cannot wait any longer, we need to get one coherent report that tells us how we are going to manage the dam,” the PS said.
Till the mystery is unraveled, rationing of water will continue.