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Sh23bn city water project row rages

Murang’a leaders and officials of Tana Athi Water Service Board are scheduled to meet in the next three weeks to iron out differences over a Sh23 billion water project meant to increase flow to Nairobi.

Murang’a Assembly Speaker Nduati Kariuki, in an interview, said the meeting that brings together all the county leaders would be held late this month.

“During a special seating at the Assembly, I was instructed to call a forum of all stakeholders — including Athi Water Service Board — on January 21. The Assembly passed a motion to that effect,” said the Speaker.

Murang’a Senator Kembi Gitura said there was a need for such a forum to array fears and safeguard the county’s natural resources.

The multibillion water project expected to benefit Nairobi is in limbo after it was suspended by Murang’a County Assembly.

AWAIT CONSULTATION

Dubbed the Northern Water Collector Tunnel, it aims at supplying Nairobi with an additional 140,000 cubic metres of water.

The standoff between the county and Athi Water Service Board (AWSB) has been caused by fears that tapping water using tunnels from rivers Maragua, Irati and Gikigie might lead to a water crisis in the area.

All the water of the three main rivers might be used to water Nairobi, leading to an acute shortage in Murang’a, residents claim.

A flurry of meetings have previously taken place between county leaders and the Athi Water board, which is implementing the Sh23.5 billion project funded by the World Bank, but with no concrete compromise.

The Assembly previously suspended the project, with MCAs calling for fresh talks and binding agreements with AWSB before implementation.

During a previous stormy session, MCAs termed the project “secretive” arguing that both the county government and the Assembly lacked adequate information on how it will be executed.

The suspension motion sponsored by Mr Joseph Machiri, who chairs the Water and Environmental Committee, received overwhelming support from MCAs.

The tunnel is to be 11.8km long with a diameter of three meters. It will be dug between 20 meters and 250 meters below the ground surface, subject to the terrain.

WATER LEVELS

Mr Machiri, who is also the Kamacharia ward rep, in his motion argued that the board should implement the project with caution to ensure water levels in rivers were not affected.

By 2035, due to increased population, Nairobi would require 1.2 billion litres of water daily, thus the need for expansion. The city already draws millions of litres of water from Ndaka-ini Dam in Gatanga constituency, Murang’a.

The MCA also noted that irrigation and other water programmes initiated by the county government may be adversely affected by the tunnel, which is to be dug along the Aberdare Forest.

In the new demands, the Assembly sought an elaborate programme for re-afforestation and conservation of the Aberdare water tower currently suffering the effects of massive logging and other human activities.

The project would also lead to closure of three power stations depending on water from rivers flowing from the Aberdares, the leaders argued. The motion also sought for payment of Sh1 for each cubic metre of water supplied to Nairobi from Murang’a.

“If we allow construction of the tunnel, which is expected to be more than 250 metres deep, it could absorb all the waters, leaving the entire Murang’a county without water for domestic use,” said Mr Machiri.

The members added that the depth of the tunnel is questionable as it could tap into all the underground water.

They called for a scientific environmental assessment.

The MCA said  they had obtained documents showing the board had earlier proposed to construct a dam at Ichichi but was unable to do so because it was too expensive. He urged the board to revert to the dam construction, which had a lesser impact on the environment.

Members also urged the halting of the project until all residents got access to piped water, noting that only 36 per cent had access to clean water, with the rest depending on rivers which may dry up due to the tunnel.