Simon Chelugui clears air on dams scandal and water security

Wednesday March 18 2020

This image take on October 11, 2016 shows ongoing construction of Northern Collector Tunnel in Murang'a. It is 75 percent complete. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

This week Water Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui answers your questions.

1. For several years, in fact more than a decade, Kenya and its Eastern African neighbours Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Burundi and Rwanda were at the forefront in the negotiations for the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) to manage the Nile River resources. However, as soon as the CFA was opened for signing in 2010, all suddenly went quiet, and we have not heard of attempts to have the agreement ratified. Meanwhile, there have been reports that some downstream counties like Egypt and Sudan have been making offers to some upstream countries to dissuade them from ratifying the agreement. What is Kenya’s current position on the matter and what is stopping us from ratifying the CFA? Benson K. Mwangi, Nairobi

The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) was opened for signing in 2010. To date six member states have signed: Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Three of the member states, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania, have already ratified it.

In Kenya, the CFA has already gone through the Cabinet and the National Assembly, and therefore we are at a very advanced stage of finalising the process of ratification.

The CFA provides for the establishment of a Permanent Nile Basin Commission once a minimum of six member states ratify the agreement.


It is true that the process seems to be taking long, and this is typical of most multilateral processes all over the world.

But I wish to assure the general public that most of the member states are committed to the completion of the CFA.

This is reflected in the enhanced cooperation among member states through the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), a transition institution by the members states as they await the establishment of the commission.

The NBI has assisted member states to prepare more than 30 investment projects of regional significance worth more than $6 billion (Sh600 billion), benefiting Nile Basin citizens in terms of water, food and energy security.

These projects are an outcome of enhanced cooperation and are shared and implemented by the member states.

2. Sometime back, Kipsyenan and Molo River residents in Baringo County protested the diversion of the Rongai and Molo rivers upstream by large-scale farmers around the Rongai area. Sir, such cases may not be unique to that part of the country alone. Are there laws guiding the exploitation of such water resources and what are the penalties for non-compliance? Komen Moris, Eldoret

Abstraction and exploitation of water resources is regulated by the Water Resources Authority.

The authority issues abstraction permits for those who intend to abstract both surface and groundwater, taking into consideration the optimum and sustainable utilisation of the available resources.

The permits may be suspended during prolonged droughts to ensure water flow to maintain the ecosystem and domestic water supply.

During the dry season, the water is only used for domestic and environmental purposes.

All the water users are required to instal a controlling device and measuring device for the accurate measurement of water abstracted, obstructed or diverted and for effluent discharged.

In this regard, nobody has the authority to divert a river without the express permission from the Water Resources Authority, including diversion of Rongai and Molo rivers.

According to clause 109 (1) of Water Resources Management Rules 2007, if the water abstracted exceeds the permitted amounts by over five per cent, the excess shall be charged at a penalty rate of a shilling per cubic metre.

3. Recently, you indicated that the delay in the exploitation of Turkana Water Aquifers was due to the fact that these water resources are shared across neighbouring countries, and that consultations were underway with such countries under established protocols. However, the Turkana County governor as well as your predecessor in the ministry insist that the water is saline and unfit for human use. Sir, this is confusing Kenyans who wish that Turkana County benefits from these resources the soonest for them to come out of the dependency syndrome we have experienced over the years. What is the truth about these much-talked of aquifers? Komen Moris, Eldoret

In Turkana County, we have shared water resources such as Lake Turkana and the surrounding aquifers.

These water resources are shared by our neighbours, namely Ethiopia and South Sudan.

Utilisation of such shared water resources is governed by international laws and cooperative framework agreements between the concerned countries.

Therefore, my statement was in relation to Lake Turkana and its catchments. Its utilisation is subjected to the International Water Law that requires equitable utilisation with riparian states.

Five aquifers were identified in Turkana during the groundwater mapping exercise in 2013.

So far, the Napuu aquifer in the vicinity of Lodwar is being exploited for the benefit of the host communities for domestic and minor irrigation.

However, exploitation of the other aquifers, especially Lotikipi, has not been successful because the water quality from three boreholes drilled there are so poor with very high salinity levels.

Treating this water using convectional technology is expensive, but the ministry is still seeking solutions in partnership with various institutions, including Israeli firms.

Further, groundwater assessment is ongoing in the southern parts of Turkana and Marsabit counties in collaboration with the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

4. Despite several positive strides the government has made, water scarcity still remains an existential problem, more so among pastoralist communities, and an underlying source of conflict. What measures do you have in place to mitigate against the problem? Okulo Andrew Guya, University of Nairobi

The government has earmarked the construction of 57 large dams of various capacities across the country to harness water from rivers as well as flood flows and surface runoff.

In the meantime, the Ministry of Water and Sanitation has completed the construction of Chemususu in Baringo, Maruba in Machakos, Kiserian in Kajiado, Theta in Kiambu, Wamba in Samburu and several water pans and small dams across the country.

Currently, Itare dam in Nakuru, Thwake dam in Kitui/Makueni, Siyoi-Muruny dam in West Pokot, Yamo in Samburu, and Karemenu II in Kiambu are ongoing.

Medium-sized dams being constructed are Ura 4, Thangatha, Kianjuri and Ndumuri in Meru and Oseno and Komune in Homa Bay.

The construction of Mwache in Kwale, Bosto in Bomet, and Ruiru II in Kiambu are expected to start within the year 2019.

Other dams whose construction is at an advanced stage of procurement include Bute in Wajir, Ndarugu in Kiambu, Kithino in Meru, Kamumu in Embu and Keben in Nandi.

Several other dams which are at the planning and design stage and are almost nearing implementation stage are Londiani in Kericho, Soin-Koru in Kisumu/Kericho, Bonyunyu in Kisii/Nyamira, Crocodile Jaw in Isiolo, Rare in Kilifi and Malewa in Nyandarua.


Dams under study with support from the African Development Bank include Bergei and Amaya in Baringo, Oloolotikosh in Kajiado and two rivers in Uasin Gishu.

The ministry is also planning the revival of Umma and Badassa dams in Kitui and Marsabit respectively, which stalled in 2010.

The dams are designed to increase water storage capacity and therefore ease scarcity.

Other key projects in the sector include Northern Collector Tunnel, which is now at 75 percent progress, Kirandich dam phase II at 25 percent, and Baricho Water Works Phase II at 99 percent.

Implementation of water and sanitation projects in 28 towns supported by the African Development Bank have also commenced.

These projects are expected to increase the water coverage from the current 60 percent to 80 percent and sewerage from 25 percent to 40 percent by the year 2022.

5. Recently, there was a picture of a young girl from your home county of Baringo drinking muddy and obviously unhealthy water due to the acute water shortages in parts of the country. What is your ministry doing to avert and alleviate such situations and provide adequate water for both human and livestock use? Paul Gesimba, Nairobi

During extreme drought, the ministry, through water services boards, undertakes water trucking to remote areas that are not served by water service providers.

We are distributing water tanks, water chemicals and water purifiers in such places for storage and cleaning of dirty water to be fit for human consumption.

As mentioned in (4) above plans are underway to construct 57 dams to increase water storage.

6. Some years back, the government started a project to sink boreholes and build water pans to deal with weather-driven water scarcity. What is the update on that front and how much has the government set aside for the same in the current financial year 2018/19? Githuku Mungai

This financial year (2018/2019), the government has set aside Sh2 billion for the national water conservation and borehole drilling strategy in the entire country and Sh400 million for development of 100 boreholes and shallow wells in 100 schools spread in arid and semi-arid areas.

Interventions have been identified awaiting the release of funds for actual implementation of projects.

7. Itare Dam was a mega Vision 2030 water project that was intended to supply water to a majority of Nakuru County residents. To my understanding, a robust feasibility study was conducted and the project was found to be viable in all aspects. Now that it has stalled, who do you think is squarely to blame for this, the contractor CMC Di Ravena, the National Treasury or the Ministry of Water? Dan Murugu, Nakuru

Indeed the feasibility studies carried for Itare dam indicated that it is a viable project, and the ministry still maintains that fact.

The implementation of the project is currently at 30 percent, with several components of works started.

The intake tower is 100 percent complete, culvert is 80 percent complete, and the tower bass mass concrete is 100 percent complete.

Construction of embankment is 25 percent complete and spillway is 30 percent complete.

This is good progress given the many challenges being encountered during construction.

The project has temporarily stalled because the contractor is experiencing cash-flow problems due to prolonged payment procedures.

We understand he filed for bankruptcy to cushion himself against auctioneers sent by lenders. The ministry is continuously engaging all stakeholders to find an amicable solution.

8. For a long time the water sector in Kenya has continued to receive external funding and technical assistance from foreign water development partners like World Bank, European Union, Africa Development Bank, Danida and Jica. What is your ministry doing to ensure that the said donors get optimum value for all the money channelled to all water boards and water companies in the country? Dan Murugu, Nakuru

The Ministry is responsible for the overall supervision and approval of interim certificates of donor-funded projects.

Therefore, the Ministry evaluates the payment certificates vis-à-vis physical status of the projects before approving any certificates for payment.

Independent and reputable supervising consultants are also engaged to provide additional oversight role.

9. Many Kenyans suffer from dental fluorosis, a common disorder caused by ingestion of excessive fluoride, especially from borehole water, during enamel formation. What is your ministry doing to arrest this problem? Kairu Kamuri, Naivasha

It is a requirement from the Ministry that all water being availed for consumption is subjected to physical, chemical and bacteriological analysis to determine their portability before consumption.