Chemususu Dam; Breathing Hope to Kenya’s Water Stressed Villages in Baringo County

Chemususu Dam; Breathing Hope to Kenya’s Water Stressed Villages in Baringo County

By Sharon Kiburi & Caroline Njoroge 

Baringo County, Kenya: Residents of Baringo County in Kenya’s Rift valley can now breathe a sigh of relief after the Chemususu water project came to their rescue.

As you approach Baringo county from Nakuru town, you are welcomed by the vast green landscape alongside the roadside board that reads: “You are now entering the Northern Hemisphere.” The region is classified as an arid area dominated by hardy shrubs and the fiercely stubborn mathenge (Prosopis juliflora) weed.

While in Baringo, you get the eerie feeling you are in another country as the locals quickly notice any strangers looking for directions.

Nubian Village 2
Nubian Village, Baringo County

In Eldama Ravine, one of the few locations where you can enjoy commendable tranquillity, we are informed that the town enjoys bragging rights as the undisputed ‘home of champions’, at least for now.  Many residents and athletic lovers from the North Rift region carry the bragging rights every time Kenya conquers the world on the track. It is also an essential agricultural trade point known for producing commercial flowers.

As you drive into the Eldama Ravine town center, you encounter the Chemususu Water Company offices. The project is expected at completion to cost Sh7 billion(70m USD), currently, it has cost 5bn (50m USD) and is financed by the national government to supply water to residents in parts of Baringo and the neighbouring Nakuru county.

Upon completion, the Chemususu water supply project will serve over 666,000 people of Baringo County and spill off to the neighbouring County of Nakuru. Currently, 65% of the population in Eldama Ravine, Mogotio, and Rongai sub-counties are enjoying the benefits of the dam.

While at the Chemususu Water Company offices, we meet the soft-spoken Samuel Koech, the facility’s Managing Director. He delves into the dam’s purpose in the quest to provide residents with a reliable water supply.

“Chemususu water supply project is worth Sh5 Billion, which has been financed by the national government and is nearing its completion with at least 30 water reservoirs in Eldama Ravine, Mogotio Baringo, and Rongai sub-county in Nakuru at 70 percent complete,” said Koech.

The water is sourced from the 45-meters dam with a capacity of 11.2 million cubic meters, which President Uhuru Kenya commissioned in 2017.  The dam was expected to be completed and operational by April 2020 but was slowed down by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Treatment pipes underground
Water treatment pipes underground

According to Koech “Once completed, the area residents in Baringo and Nakuru are expected to have a steady supply of clean water despite the different weather seasons experienced in the region, but for now, we are operating in the quarter capacity of the expected service area; surrounding Eldama Ravine region.”

Despite the disruption occasioned by the pandemic, the dam is on the course, with phase one already operational. It is mainly supplying water to the Eldama Ravine area with the goal of serving the Mogotio area.

A spot check by Talkafrica established that work on the distribution project along the Nakuru-Eldama Ravine road where the pipeline is passing has gathered momentum, and at least 30 water reservoirs are complete.

While at the dam site, Koech also takes us through the water treatment project, effluent sludge water treatment, and storage reservoirs, among critical installations. The treatment section seeks to assist in alleviating water-borne diseases that have affected residents for a long time, mainly due to reliance on unprotected water sources.

In addition, the 2019 census highlighted some of the water sources for the over 150,174  households in Baringo County this is data from the Baringo County Department of Finance and Economic Planning.

The dam is expected to end the perennial water shortage, turn around the weather pattern and stimulate the economic status of the residents across the two counties since they will be able to access the spillover water during the heavy rainy season for agricultural activities.

“When the project is complete, we will be able to supply more water for domestic use in bulk, and hopefully, we shall have reduced cases of waterborne related diseases that are a common phenomenon at the onset of every rainy season,” says Koech.

Furthermore, he reassures us that our concerns on the issues of climate change and risk mitigation were all considered by the local contractors and designers. They put into consideration the future climate projection of the two counties.

The dam is a flagship project identified by the government of Kenya as an enabler for Vision 2030, aiming to supply water to locals alongside creating employment. “The Chemususu water project allowed me to use my taxi to transport some materials and workers to the site. The opportunity came when I had just relocated back to Eldama Ravine, an area I grew up in, but I had left after school searching for greener pastures” said Clapton Sichel, a resident and taxi operator.

Water Treatment 1 2
Water treatment

Sichel notes, most residents have benefitted from offering supportive roles on the project. He notes that the dam has also restored the permanent water supply in the area. The investment by the national government has created a buzz of economic activity for the real estate and the construction-related businesses that were directly involved in the design, engineering, and construction of the water resources infrastructure.

“There were also employment opportunities that have been created for the unskilled labour offered by individuals within and outside the community. Which also enabled the transfer of skills to local people through on-the-job training, observation, and trial under supervision,” stressed Koech.

The dam has also come along with secondary benefits such as setting up access roads that conveniently supply raw material to the facility. We meet Sebi Abudala, a resident who shares the project’s impact on the community.

“The water has been beneficial despite its inconsistencies when the rain reduces. Before the water project, we had to walk long distances to areas where wells were dug or bought water from individuals who owned wells at very high prices”, says Abudala.

Sebi Abudala, a resident in baringo

Janet Cherono 1

The women have also not been left behind as they reap the benefits of the dam. Janet Cherono, a twenty-eight hotel businesswoman and mother of four children tells the difference of having consistent running water for her domestic use “The time we spent going to fetch water for over an hour is now spent actually cooking; hygiene has also improved due to available water” says Janet.

Farmers in this region have traditionally relied on two rainy seasons each year. With no other way of getting water to their land, however, the run-off water from the Chemususu spillway is vital to the farmers if the crops were to grow. Some of the locals who live along the semi-arid areas of the county had received a lifeline since 2020 when their farms were connected to the spillway path of the dam.

Damaris Andeja Namia

Damaris Andeja Namia, a thirty-three-year-old mother of three, the third born being newly born, is grateful for running water in her homestead thanks to the Chemususu dam water project.

“Most of the household work requires consistent use of water, the ability to have it here especially with a newborn makes my duties quite easy, the cows and chicken seem to enjoy drinking enough water” says Namia.

It’s worth noting that the harnessing of water within the Chemususu dam will significantly facilitate a shift from rain-fed agriculture to irrigated and commercialized farming activities and increase water supply within the county, which is in line with the proposed national water harvesting and storage regulations of 2019.

Furthermore, the investment in water storage capacity, both large and small-scale as provided for in the proposed regulations, will enhance resilience to cope with erratic rainfall better.

The dam complements existing initiatives by the government to boost agricultural production. For instance, the agricultural research sector has had the highest amount of resources allocated to it compared to the livestock and fishery development sectors over the years 2017 – 2021. The highest amount was disbursed in 2020 at $4.8 billion higher than the budgeted amount.

Furthermore, Koech notes that water is a dangerously scarce commodity, especially in the semi-arid areas of the country, and the national water security situation sometimes can be precarious, significantly when the pastoralists’ communities are caught up in conflicts as a result of water and the resulting continual threats of drought.

Therefore, indisputably, whenever there is any large-scale water infrastructure project in any region, they tend to carry a lot of security threats and potentially spark conflict with the neighbouring communities.

But it is important to note there have been a lot of national and local collaborations during the Chemususu water supply dam construction. Notably, interests of the benefitting communities have been considered alongside the ‘trickle-down wealth generated from the operational dam.

IMG 9450 1

According to Laura Muniafu, a structural engineer based in Nairobi, “The construction of a dam is really dependent on the availability of water throughout the year, and the quantity during the heavy rain sessions, hence the conducting feasibility studies are vital before any dam construction, and the priorities are fixed.”

She notes further that ‘conducting water resources analysis includes the hydrological analysis, sediment modeling, soil erosion, and the reservoir yields for the proposed site’ She emphasizes that it is crucial to conduct a reservoir stimulation for each dam site to ensure different multipurpose uses can be studied to arrive at the optimum operation for that particular reservoir.

Spillway Dam
A section of Chemususu Dam water flow/ Carole Njoroge.

Expectedly, the Chemususu water supply project fulfills the international water requirements such as the Nile River Cooperative Framework (NRCF) initiated in 1997, allowing riparian countries to construct dams and undertake related projects.

Engineer Laura says for such a dam to be in existence and funded at the national level, it must comply and meet the law requirements as stipulated by the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA)and provide the environmental assessment reports per the law.

She further adds “Construction of a dam also should be in alignment with the world bank safeguard policies regarding the environment, public participation report, management plan report and in some instances, and action resettlement action plan”

The management of the water supply from the Dam is expected to re-invest accrued royalties into the local population through effective governance, education, and public health measures. Also, spur meaningful development particularly the reduction of water insecurities and expected impact will optimize water flow in both counties.

This article was produced with support from InfoNile and JRS Biodiversity Foundation

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkedin
Share on Pinterest
Share on Telegram
Share on WhatsApp

Leave a comment

Related Posts