Killer dam is illegal, says water management official

Thursday May 10 2018

Patel Dam

Onlookers view part of the private Patel Dam that collapsed on May 9, 2018 in Solai, Nakuru County. PHOTO | AYUB MUIYURO | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

By JOSEPH OPENDA
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By JOHN NGIRACHU
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The dam that broke its banks and flooded areas downstream in Solai, Nakuru County, is one of seven illegal ones in Patel Coffee Estates Ltd, officials of the Water Resources Management Authority (Warma) said Thursday.

Simon Wang’ombe, the regional manager for the Rift Valley, said officials from Warma had been visiting the farms occasionally.

Their main cause of concern was a dam near Solai shopping centre, he said, that appeared weak and water has been seeping onto the road.

“We had been pushing him to repair that one but this other one we didn’t anticipate,” said Mr Wang’ombe.

He said the authority has been asking the management of the farm to regularise the seven dams as none of them have been cleared by engineers from the government agency, meaning they are illegal.

The dam that burst was built in the 80s, according to Festus Ng’eno, the Nairobi County executive committee member in charge of water.

“For the last one year, we have been trying to engage the company on how to legalise the dams but they have been reluctant. As far as we are concerned, the dams are illegal,” said Mr Wang’ombe. The law requires that any private dam going beyond five metres high needs to be regularised by the authority. 

Mr Patel was not present at the time of the tragedy and efforts to trace him were unsuccessful.

He owns the Patel Coffee Estates Ltd, which has been dealing in large-scale farming of coffee, macadamia, dairy and beef rearing.

He has been practising farming in the area for nearly two decades. Apart from the original land called Milton Siding, he bought another initially owned by a white farmer known as a Mr Jack, which surrounds Solai trading centre.

 In 2015, one of the dams burst its banks and water marrooned several farms but no lives were lost then. There was, however, a demonstration, said Mwangi Wangai,  a resident, but nothing came of it.

Mr Wangai said complaints by residents of villages downstream of Patel Estate started when the rivers were dammed off inside the farm, depriving them of the water.

The farm, however, provided piped water, which the villagers draw from a tap.