Loise Wachira via web
The Mara is a modest sized river shared by Kenya and Tanzania. The Mau forest, at the top-end of the basin, has historically recycled water, enhanced rainwater infiltration and stabilized erodible soils. However, decades of encroachment, deforestation and poor agricultural practices have diminished recycling, resulting in rapid run-off and polluted rivers. As a result, farmers report more erratic rains and increasing occurrence of drought and especially small farmer incomes remain low and unreliable. Downstream users experience the changes as diminishing rivers in dry season and more extreme floods in wet seasons with death of cattle and wildlife as a consequence. Overgrazing and inappropriate agriculture in the range-lands have also led to increased run-off of valuable rainwater, degraded water quality resulting in diminished incomes.
The Mau Mara Serengeti Sustainable Water Initiative (MaMaSe) is a 4 year programme funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands based in Nairobi which is aiming at improving water safety and security in the Mara River Basin (MRB) in Kenyan . It is not wrong to state that the MRB has a lot of challenges to manage its water resources properly. The amount of abstracted water is not exactly known as a lot of abstractors do not have a permit. Among the abstractors with a permit, several do not have a water meter hence the amount of water they abstract is roughly estimated. And during the dry spell, there is no control of maintaining water in the river for downstream users and the ecosystem of the river. Those are just some of the challenges.
To reverse the declining trends and to start a structural change, the MaMaSe Initiative through its partners IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and the Water Resources Authority (WRA) are developing a Water Allocation Plan (WAP) for the Mara River Basin (MRB) together with the input of the stakeholders.
A Water Allocation Plan is a legal document which sets the rules for managing the abstraction of the water according to its availability. In other words, a WAP for the basin will help to control the reserve flow which is the amount of water which has to be left in the river to maintain the aquatic ecosystem and the riparian vegetation plus the basic human needs. The WAP is a crucial document as its implementation will ensure the long-term viability of the water resources while minimizing the impact of the abstracted amount of water.
The water which can be allocated for abstraction is the extra amount of water or the surplus above the reserve flow threshold. This amount can be allocated to the different users with the prioritization of the human needs (others than the basic human needs) followed by the other users which can be industries, commercial irrigators, wildlife, livestock, etc. Among the abstractors in the MRB there are the water companies (e.g. Bomet and Longisa water companies), community irrigation schemes (e.g. Chebarra and Nogirwet irrigation scheme), large farms (e.g. Lalela and Tibu farm), schools and tourist infrastructures.
So far, under the development of the WAP, several activities have been undertaken during the MaMaSe Sustainable Water Initiative; a full abstraction survey of the Upper and Middle MRB, the determination of the reserve flow, the calculations of the actual and future water demands and the water balance among others. Through different stakeholder meetings, all the pieces of the big complex puzzle are brought together, analysed and discussed and will eventually lead to the final document before the end of 2017. Figure 2 shows the long-term mean monthly discharge in m3/s calculated based on more than 40 year of data series.
The provisional conclusion of the analysis is that in the Upper and Middle Mara River Basin, the current water balance for the rainy season is positive; meaning that there is enough water available to maintain the reserve flow plus satisfying all the demands of the abstractors. However, the situation is completely different during the dry season when the river levels have gone down. Currently (i.e. in 2017) the water balance is already negative during the dry season for the Talek sub-catchment meaning that even the environmental flow is often not respected/ maintained.
If future plans will be implemented i.e. increasing the irrigation surface and an interbasin transfer executed (i.e. from the Amala river to the Ewaso Ng’iro river), indications show a negative water balance in the dry season for several parts of the MRB. The Nyangores sub basin will have a negative water balance from 2022 onward while the Amala and Mara sub basins from 2037 onwards. If those plans will be undertaken, the consequences will be serious; lack of water downstream with no possibility to cover the demands of the users (humans, wildlife, livestock) besides the decline of the environment. The world-famous migration cycles (crossings of the Mara River) might be influenced hence resulting in high economic losses.
As the WAP for the Mara River Basin was never put in place, water was abstracted even when the threshold for the reserve flow was reached, resulting in serious negative impacts on the ecosystem besides not leaving sufficient water for the downstream users of the transboundary basin. Photo 3 shows this critical situation at the Talek river in March 2015.
Once the WAP document will be finalized, it has to be implemented and monitored. Therefore different measures and actions will have to be put in place by WRA, WRUAs (Water Resources Users Associations) and the stakeholders to make it work and preserve the water resources. Where/ when needed, WRA with the help of the WRUA’s should enforce the implementation so that the thresholds of the water levels are respected.
As stakeholders are the ones who have a direct influence on the amounts of water abstracted, they should also look to methods to use the resources in a more efficient way which could be reduce water losses, change to more efficient irrigation technics, store water (in pans) during flood flows etc. Luckily some big agricultural farms are investing in water pans to store water during high river flows.
During the first three and a half years of the MaMaSe Initiative, different actions have been undertaken to improve the water efficiency. The partner SNV1 supported small-holder farmers in the upper basin by helping them implementing soil erosion control measures and having simple roof catchment systems which prevents farmers from walking long distances with their cattle in search of water. In the middle basin, with the partners IHE, WWF and SNV, the Masaai Mara conservancies were introduced and encouraged to implement sustainable/holistic rangeland management where grassland is managed through grazing plans. Cattle is also bunched together to brake the topsoil and hence help to increase the soil coverage as actually it is highly degraded.
For the farmers in the upper basin, as well as for the ones in the middle basin, a lot of attention is being given to a better way of commercializing their products (the value chain) to get a higher return on their investments. Hence it makes them realize that a better way of farming (crops and livestock) through a more efficient way of using the water resources results in an increased income.
Finally, it is not too late to act and manage properly the water resources. It is very important as well for the habitants of the MRB as for the livestock and wildlife to guarantee the sustainability so that the well-being of all is not compromised.
The writer is Project Coordinator of MaMaSe Sustainable Water Initiative Email: email@example.com