As has been the norm, Patrick Muriuki woke up at 4am and walked 500m from his Ndaiga home in Laikipia East sub-county to Ontulili River.
For the entire week, the river had not been flowing and residents were being forced to rely on dirty pools along the permanent river course.
On getting to the river, Mr Muriuki found the situation had worsened. The water levels in the pools had gone down and what was left was stinking, an indication it was contaminated.
“I returned home until around 9am when I was told there was water upstream. In most cases, the river flows early in the morning although for the last two weeks, the situation has deteriorated,” said Muriuki.
When The Standard visited the area, we found Muriuki and a group of villagers at Ndaiga bridge celebrating along the river after it started to flow.
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Julietta Wachera, another resident, had passed through the area at 6am and found the permanent river was dry.
“The pools were dry. I am amazed to find the river flowing, although as a narrow stream. We are suffering and blame large-scale farmers upstream for blocking the rivers and diverting the water to their farms,” said Ms Wachera.
Just like many rivers in the region that traverse parts of Kieni in Nyeri County, Laikipia, Samburu and Isiolo counties, Ontulili River flows from Mt Kenya and serves communities in Buuri (Meru County) before traversing Laikipia, Samburu and draining into Ewaso Nyiro River.
The general situation is the same in the region, except for residents who depend on Gathorongai River in Kieni, Sirimon and Kongoni in Laikipia and Meru counties.
By yesterday morning, Gathorongai and Sirimon had dried up at the Chaka-Timau road bridge and downstream users had to look for other sources of water.
Only Tigithi (Naro Moru River), Burguret, Nanyuki and Sirimon rivers were flowing by yesterday morning, although the water levels were worrying.
Residents have accused upstream users of draining the rivers. Susan Murigo, who uses water from Sirimon, said although only a narrow stream was flowing, the river had dried up by Friday evening.
“We suspect Government officers raided some farms upstream and unblocked numerous intakes erected by the farmers. It is a pathetic state and unless the Government tightens the rules and bans irrigation, we are going to die due to lack of water,” said Ms Mirigo.
Her sentiments were affirmed by the situation at Gathorongai River. The river bed was dry and the only indication the valley was a river was a huge pool of dirty water that had formed near the Chaka-Naro Moru bridge.
Some farmers were busy tending their horticultural crops on nearby farms, while one walked to the river and switched on a water pump that was hidden in a bush on the river bank. Within few minutes, the pool started to dry up.
Although most farmers accuse large-scale farms of draining the rivers, it was apparent that small-scale farmers also play a huge role because they use pumps to irrigate their farms; directly from the rivers.
“We cannot stop farming because Kenyans need food, so what do we do? The only solution is to share the available resource. We are even worried by your visit because it could turn against us. We could get arrested or have our pumps confiscated, which will cause our crops to dry up,” said a farmer on the Gathorongai River belt who declined to be named.
Late last month, pilgrims to Mt Kenya expressed concern about the drying rivers and demanded action to save the situation.
Ruth Enkeseni, who was part of the prayer team, said the road trip exposed to them the dangers of drying local rivers.
“This is a time bomb and we urge the Government and environmentalists to intervene and save Mt Kenya from the thirst,” said Ms Enkeseni.
Last week, residents of Ndaiga in Laikipia led by nominated MP Sarah Lekorere accused the Government, especially the Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA) of failing to regulate water usage, hence causing conflicts between upstream and downstream users.
Ms Lekorere and Laikipia Water and Natural Resources County Secretary Joel Wamichwe accused WARMA of failing to crack the whip on errant farmers who were draining the rivers dry.