Dwindling River Thiba water levels trigger inter-county row

Residents of the semi-arid Makima area of Embu County demonstrate against diversion of River Thiba water upstream. (Joseph Muchiri, Standard)

A dispute has arisen between some residents of Embu and Kirinyaga counties over use of the dwindling water from River Thiba.

On Wednesday, residents of Makima in Embu County held day-long demonstrations along River Thiba to protest diversion of the water.

The residents accused those living near the river on the Kirinyaga side of diverting water to irrigate their farms, leaving those downstream with no water.

On the Embu side, the river course is largely dry save for a few pools of water.

A downpour in the upper parts of Embu and Kirinyaga counties yesterday morning did not help matters.

The Embu residents called on the Government and National Irrigation Board to ensure that the river flows again.

Embu County Commissioner Abdullahi Galgallo said he was liaising with his counterpart on the Kirinyaga side to settle the dispute.

He said deputy county commissioners from both sides would be sent along the river to ensure that available water is shared equitably.

Rice fields

During the protest, Mugo Ekombo, a community leader, claimed the river had been blocked at Kangiciri in Kirinyaga County and the water diverted to rice fields.

Angela Nyaga said the river has been without water for three weeks forcing them to drill holes within the river course.

“But the holes we drill on the river bed are destroyed by lorries that harvest sand. We have children, animals and crops but we don’t have water to give them or use in other ways,” she said.

Consequently, the angry residents offloaded sand from two lorries and levelled heaps of sand which had been placed at the bank of the river to dry before being transported.

They forced the lorries to leave and warned drivers of dire consequences if they dared return to harvest sand.

Ms Nyaga said after their first demonstration a fortnight ago, water flowed after farmers upstream unblocked the river.

Boniface Mwaniki said residents have been collecting fish from the banks of the dry river.

He said some farmers have lost their livestock due to lack of water. Some residents are forced to walk over 10km in search of water.

Separately, farmers who depend on river water irrigation in the vast Mwea Trust land could lose their crop worth millions of shillings after Rupingazi River dries up.

The farmers who specialise in horticultural farming said the river has dried up and only a few pools of water are left.

“I have depended on this river for all my irrigation water requirements but as you can see now only small lagoons are left with some water which cannot even been pumped to irrigate an acre,” said John Gitari.