Up until last week, the Northern Collector Tunnel (NCT) Phase 1 project that is expected to supply 140 million litres of water to Nairobi was just any other project implemented in the country side with little if any national attention.
But on Monday, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga triggered debate on the Sh23.5billion multi agency funded project that is now threatening to generate controversy.
But according to the 4th Nairobi Northern Collector Water System Phase 1 Brief For Proposed Ground Breaking, the flood water diversion structures to be constructed on rivers Maragua, Gikikie and Irati, are designed to divert 3, 1 and 2m cumecs of flood water respectively to the collector tunnel and not the entire amount.
Athi Water Services Board CEO Malaquen Milgo assured that the impact on the Tana River is between 0.9 to 2 per cent and quite negligible.
In the beginning, the project will target rivers Maragua, Irati and Gikigie.
It will then be extended to tap water from rivers South Mathioya, Hembe, Githugi and North Mathioya all these are tributaries of the Tana River in the third and fourth phases.
The project first conceived in 1998 with a target year for implementation being 2010 did not take off because of lack of funds according to Eng Milgo.
He said the current water deficit in Nairobi City is 125 million per day and in line with the National Development Plan, Vision 2030,and NCT I seeks to improve its water capacity in Nairobi City and the surrounding areas.
Milgo said prior to the implementation of the NCT I there were a number of studies that were carried out on the Northern Collector System, which have involved detailed data collection and analysis to assess its viability.
“The initial studies are documented in Feasibility Reports of 1998, carried out by M/S Howard Humphreys and Partners Ltd under the Third Nairobi Water Supply Project. The 1998 report investigated to greater detail the technical and economic viability of the Northern Collector Scheme as a source of water after Ndakaini Dam.
He said the report recommended implementation of the NCT Phase 1 project by the year 2010. Due to funding challenges the project was not implemented as planned.
“In 2012, Athi Water Services Board through Egis/MIBP JV carried out the Feasibility Study and Master Plan for Developing New Water Sources for Nairobi and Satellite Towns. This study validated the 1998 report and further recommended implementation of the Northern Collector Tunnel project,” Milgo explained.
He said additional hydrological reviews for the project were undertaken by M/s GIBB Africa as part of the ESIA Study process further validating the hydrological and ecological viability of the project.
However, a report by the Joint Technical Consensus and Position on the Northern Collector Tunnel prepared by the Murang’a County government raised serious issues at the project claiming that the NCT I project “would adversely affect river flows in Muranga County.”
“The Report dated April noted that NCT I not only risked zero flows down stream there by also affected irrigation downs stream and worse still it could “result in lowering of ground water and even kill the natural springs.” said the document signed on behalf of the county by Eng Amos Njoroge, County Executive Member for Energy, Transport and Infrastructure.
Notably is that, Northern Collector Tunnel currently under construction and to be completed by December 2018 is one of the second phase of four phases part.
The other project phases will affect the South Maragua River and the fourth and last project will It tap water from rivers Hembe, Githugi and North Mathioya in Mathioya constituency all of them tributaries of the Tana River.
But Raila termed it “a secret Jubilee Government project in the Aberdare Mountains, just above the Murang’a region, whose impact will be one of the most disastrous in the country and on residents of the Continent.”
A visit by The Standard on Sunday team to Murang’a met locals who are either bitterly opposed, confused or care little about the project which most agree could dry up the rivers downstream, in Makamboki, Kinyona, Githuro and Munungu villages in Kigumo constituency.
“We are totally opposed to the project, no one has come to explain to us how we will benefit from it when we know well that it will lead to our rivers drying up downstream,” said Isaac Ndung’u a resident of Makomboki village.
Ndung’u agrees that the project is detrimental to rivers that currently have low water levels dure to ppor rain rainfall.
“Already our rivers have very little water running down, one wonders what will remain when you rechannel the little to a tunnel? Wondered Ndung’u who spoke for the seven other men who were standing at the NCT II signpost overlooking the end of the 11.8kilometres tunnel.
Ndung’u sentiments explains the fears that abound in the region at the foot of the Aberdare Forest the sources of rivers Athi and Tana that cut across several counties before they flow into the India Ocean.
Down in the Makomboki, Kinyona are constructions of the 3m diameter tunnel meant to trap raw water from Irati the Maragua and Gikigie on the eastern fringes of the Aberdare Conservation area and have it flow through the undulating hills across Kigumo constituency to an outlet at the Githika River near Makomboki village then from there pour the water to Thika’s Ndakaini dam for use in Nairobi.
At the foot of Aberdare forest are sources of ten streams that join, Maragua, Githigie and Irati rivers that further downstream flows to River Tana.
The streams include Gathambara, Githaigwa, Gateaga, Irati, Gathukeini, Gekeigi, Isise, Maragua, Sadatha and Thegeini that feed into Irati, Maragua and Githigie.
The Maragua, Githigie and Irati rivers are at the heart of the 11.8km tunnel and the locals say the completion of the project could spell their death downstream.
“We will remain with only ridges and nothing to flow down, it is sad that this is happening,” said Stanley a resident of Mununga.
Mununga said last year they had organised a demonstration to oppose the project but it never materialized after locals kept off.
“The protest we had planned flopped because some leaders dissuaded people against it for fear of the repercussions,” said Kamau.
James Mwangi expressed fears that families that live downstream may experience difficulty getting water.
He said, “Once the project is fully implemented it will be difficult to have enough or at some point any water flowing down stream.”