Increased human activities around the Chyulu Hills National Park, straddled between Taita Taveta and Makueni counties, is raising concerns about the survival of Mzima Springs that serves large parts of the Coast region with fresh water.
The Kenya Wildlife Service, hoteliers and conservationists have raised an alarm over the increasing human encroachment in the region that forms part of a vital water catchment zone critical to the sustainability of Mzima Springs.
Robert Njue, the KWS Tsavo Conservation Area assistant director, warns of a looming ecological disaster if no intervention is made to stop the degradation of the 42,000 acres around Mikululo area.
Over 3,000 locals have invaded the area and are carrying out farming activities and other commercial ventures.
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“This is a vital water-catchment area but has been degraded. The effects from such activities are disastrous,” Njue said.
Willie Mwadilo, a hotelier and chairman of the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers Tsavo and Amboseli regions, said the recent huge fires experienced in the Tsavo around Chyulu Hills were as a result of honey-harvesting and charcoal-burning.
Extensive irrigation of the land for farming around Njukini farmlands in Taveta sub-C0ounty whose main water source is Mt Kilimanjaro is also having adverse effects on Mzima Springs.
"The government should act expeditiously and in a most humane way to relocate those who have encroached on the water-catchment area and resettle them," Mwadilo said, and added that irrigation around Njukini should also be regulated.
The early tell-tale signs of this looming environmental catastrophe are already being seen several kilometres away at Mzima Springs in the heartland of Tsavo West National Park.
Considered one of the most iconic features in Tsavo West, Mzima Springs has for decades produced over 400 million litres of ice-cold water from the natural storage that is a huge underground aquifer.
KWS now says water volumes discharged by Mzima Springs are falling drastically.
Visitors to the fish observatory centre at Mzima Springs main pool now view fish through the protective glass at the bottom. In the past, all layers of protective glasses were under water.
“This is a reflection of what is happening at the source. The area is a water-catchment zone for these springs,” Njue said.
Mzima Springs is a vital water source for over four million people in the four coastal counties of Taita Taveta, Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi.
Data available shows that the springs discharge approximately 304,000 litres of water per minute. Mzima pipeline, which serves the four counties, has a daily carrying capacity of 35-million litres but carries less due to dilapidation of infrastructure.
With increased daily demand for water, the government plans to construct a larger 220-kilometre water pipeline dubbed Mzima 2.
According to an Environmental Impact Assessment study in May 2018 for the Coast Water Services Board, the new pipeline will have a capacity of 105 million litres per day.
In the recent past, the government's bid to intervene and save the water-catchment area has attracted the ire of locals who have settled around the catchment zone.
In a February 2019 court ruling, the Environmental and Land Court in Machakos ruled that KWS had erred by extending the boundaries of Chyulu Hills National Park to include the disputed 42,000 acres at Mikululo without following the due process.
The court ordered KWS not to evict the residents. However, the wildlife agency has since appealed the ruling.