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County finally gets access to DP's property to desilt Grogan canal

COAST
By Renson Mnyamwezi | June 24th 2021

Deputy President Dr. William Ruto in Kisumu County during Madaraka Day celebrations.

Deputy President William Ruto has finally opened gates to his vast farm in Taita Taveta Sub-county to pave the way for desilting of a canal that feeds Lake Jipe.

The lake has been drying up because of the blockage of the 20-kilometre Gragan canal, three and a half of which are within the DP's farm.

The drastic reduction of water levels in the lake has adversely affected residents of Mata, who depend on it for their domestic use as well as irrigation.

The canal was built in the 1930s by Colonel Ewart Grogan, an English explorer, who lived between 1874 and 1967. There has been a stand-off between Dr Ruto and county officials over desilting of the canal. On Wednesday, the county's Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Executive Davis Mwangoma said managers of the DP's farm had opened an electric fence that had made it hard for them to implement the project. 

He said the desilting project would cost the county administration over Sh9 million. 

"Desilting of the 3.5km stretch inside the DP’s farm will allow water to flow into Lake Jipe that is on the verge of drying up," said Dr Mwangoma.

The county minister and Mata MCA Chanzu Khamadi said the entire project would take 60 days. “The DP has officially opened up his farm and desilting work has already started and is going on smoothly,” said Mwangoma.

“We have already desilted about 1.2km of the canal. Desilting the canal will restore the ecological status of Lake Jipe and revive the fishing industry... Fishing is one of the main economic activities of residents in Mata and surrounding areas,” said the MCA.

The DP's farm managers had resisted the plan to desilt the canal. Water Resource Management Authority (WARMA) senior officials later intervened, ending a year-old standoff.

The managers had fenced the canal off. They are also said to have fenced off water streams and vowed not to allow anyone in since the land is private property. This sparked an uproar as villagers and county officials who maintained that the canal had to be opened.

In February 2020, a manager at the farm, South African Arie Dampers, was arrested after he was linked to alleged illegal water connection.

The manager was arrested after Taita-Taveta Water and Sewerage Company (TAVEVO) Limited officials did inspection on alleged illegal water connection. But during a recent meeting at Mata Hall, the farm managers agreed to allow county officials to unblock the canal to allow water to flow into the lake and villages in Mata.

Mr Dampers, who attended a meeting chaired by WARM officials, allowed desilting of the natural water course key to the survival of Lake Jipe ecosystem. “I have no problem with plans to desilt the canal. What I want to know is how people will enter the farm to desilt the canal as this is private property," the manager earlier told WARMA officials and local leaders. 

He said since the farm was private property, the county should provide the names of the workers it will sent to unclog the canal to avoid crowds in DP's farm. [Renson Mnyamwezi]

WARMA Water officer John Kinyua told the DP’s managers that Lake Jipe was key to the survival of small scale farmers and fishermen of Mata and that it was therefore important for the canal to be unblocked.

“The siltation is a threat to Lake Jipe because water cannot flow in. The electric fence surrounding the canal should be removed to allow draining and the free flow of water to the lake,” he said.

“If the lake dries up, we will all die. If you cannot open your farm to allow desilting, then we will use the law to have you do it," Kinyua said.

WARMA Enforcement Officer Valentine Okoth noted the drainage system in the region is poor especially because of the changing land tenure system.

“Nobody can say thy own water. Water from a river or any other source is for everybody's use," said Okoth.

Khamadi told the meeting that the management of Kisima Farm had blocked the canal and denied the county government accesses to facilitate desilting of the waterway.

A farmer, Laurent Kipesha, said he has lost hundreds of acres of crops to floods after silt filled the canal.

He said unclogging the canal is the only solution to the problem of flooding in parts of the area whenever it rains.

Dr Kipesha claimed he had lost 300 banana plants, 300 coconut plants and 150 orange plants due to massive flooding.

He said elephants were also invading human settlements in search of water because the lake is drying up. 

Col Grogan, who was born in London, later sold the agriculturally rich land to the families of Jomo Kenyatta and former Taveta MP Basil Criticos. The two families later split the land. The Criticos took the lower side while the Kenyatta family took the upper Ziwani farm, now known as Gicheha farm.

Criticos sold the vast land to the DP. The former MP said Col Grogan used the canal to rear fish.

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