A paradox is unfolding in Mt Kenya region where, despite heavy rainfall, a number of rivers that originate from the mountain are drying up.
Rivers Thegu and Sagana, the main tributaries of the larger River Sagana, which drains into the Tana River, are drying up as are Burguret, Naro Moru and Likii rivers, which drain into the Ewaso Nyiro.
Where the rivers once flowed, now there are bare rocks; the water has been reduced to a mere trickle.
Inside the forests, piping systems snake along the river banks diverting millions of litres of water to households and farms.
Ordinarily, the rainfall is enough to allow the rivers to regain their normal water levels. But increasing demand by a soaring population have caused these levels to drop significantly.
The Water Resource Authority (WRA) has issued hundreds of licences across the region that allow tapping of water from the rivers.
And with more licences being issued, users are moving further up the mountain and inside the forest to tap water.
Last week, Ministry of Water and Sanitation Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui revoked all water abstraction licences issued in the region. He said the revocation would allow for an audit of water tapping from rivers in the region.
Chelugui said many of the abstraction licences had been issued without considering the volume of water available in the rivers.
For instance, in River Sagana there are 75 water intakes while Thegu has 45.
"The number of intakes is disproportionate to the flow of the river. The people we entrusted with the responsibility are not doing their jobs," the CS said.
He said the licences would be reissued after a report was prepared to indicate water volumes in the rivers and the amounts that can be drawn without adverse effects downstream.
Most of the blame went to members of the Community Forest Association (CFA) who have been granted permission to cultivate in the forest while taking care of young trees.
When The Standard visited Kabaru Forest, there were four lorries loading cabbages harvested from one of the farms owned by a CFA member.
According to members of the Water Resource Users Association (WRUA), it has been difficult to control how CFAs use the rivers.
Sagana WRUA chairman Joseph Ndegwa said members of CFAs tapped water from the rivers under the pretext of watering tree seedlings but instead used it to irrigate farms inside the forest.
The Ministry of Water has also accused CFAs of indiscriminately tapping water from the rivers.
“People are hiding behind these CFAs to put up illegal abstractions. They claim it is for irrigating tree seedlings yet they are using it on their own crops,” said the Water Principal Secretary Joseph Irungu.
When the Water CS made an unscheduled stop in the forest, some of those who had set up illegal intakes frantically set about removing them.
On the course of River Sagana inside Kabaru Forest, The Standard found pipes, some as large as 12 inches in diameter, that were installed recently.
There are about 10 such pipes, which are responsible for drying up the streams deep inside the forest.