Opposition leader Raila Odinga has sparked another row with President Uhuru Kenyatta's administration over a multi-billion-shilling water project.
Raila yesterday warned against the construction of Sh6.8 billion Northern Water Collector Tunnel designed to address chronic water shortage in Nairobi and its environs, citing conservation concerns.
He accused the Jubilee Government of working secretly on the project, which is located along the eastern fringes of the Aberdare conservation area in Murang'a County, and which he cautioned would turn parts of the country into a desert.
Speaking at his Capitol Hills offices in Nairobi, Raila told President Kenyatta to immediately stop the World Bank-funded water project until a comprehensive audit on environmental concerns raised by residents is done.
Raila cited lack of public participation in the project, which he described as "tunnels of death", warning that its implementation would deny residents of Murang'a, Ukambani, Garissa, Tana River and other parts of the Coast their source of livelihood.
"The secrecy surrounding this project is by design. Even the Jubilee Government knows it is a bad project. It will turn Murang'a, Garissa, Ukambani and Tana Delta regions into a desert within five years of implementation," Raila said.
However, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale, Water Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and Government Spokesperson Eric Kiraithe reminded the CORD leader that he was the one who launched the project when he was prime minister in 2012.
Mr Wamalwa said Kenyans must guard against a trend where major infrastructure projects were being frustrated for political reasons.
The Government declared it would continue with the project, which is set to provide Nairobi residents with additional 140 million litres of water, doubling the current flow in the city.
But Raila immediately countered the CS's assertions, explaining that the project he had launched at KICC was drilling of 203 boreholes in Ruiru.
The Standard reported on September 19, 2012, that Raila, the then PM, graced the launch of a Sh160 billion plan that included sinking wells in Kiunyu and Ruiru in phase one, construction of a tunnel diverting Irati, Gikigie and Maragua rivers for phase two and the third phase was to build dams including in Maragua and Ndarugu.
"The first phase is slotted for December 2012. Phase one and two of this project are expected to cost Sh25 billion. The entire initiative will cost about Sh160 billion," the PM was quoted saying then.
The report further quoted Raila saying the investment will ensure that the country's water security is not compromised by degradation of water resources or climate change.
Yesterday, Jubilee officials gave copies of a speech said to have been read by Raila during the event, which quoted the Opposition leader saying that the "the Government has embarked on bold steps to develop water sources that can meet the needs of city and satellite towns up to the year 2035" at a cost of Sh160 billion.
Kiraithe said Sh160 billion could not have not been spent on drilling boreholes.
Duale claimed Raila was trying to divert attention from the "crumbling political marriage" with fellow CORD leaders Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang'ula.
"This is a baby that Raila started in 2012 when he was the Prime Minister. Raila wants to divert the attention of CORD burning. His house is under siege, his coalition is in tatters. He has cheated Kalonzo long enough," Duale claimed.
It is not the first time the multi-billion-shilling water project was facing resistance. In 2015, the National Environmental Tribunal blocked its implementation but the matter was later resolved.
Murang'a County Assembly had also opposed the project and asked it be suspended until all the issues raised were addressed.
Raila said the project would also affect four of the country's hydro-power stations.
"In Murang'a, four hydro-power stations on Maragua River known as Wanji and Mesco projects operated by KenGen and five private generating stations shall become completely unviable with this project," he said.
Wamalwa said adequate hydrological studies on the project had been undertaken and it was confirmed that downstream users will have priority on water usage, adding that there would be unlikely effects on downstream users.
On the tunnel design, the Government said it was fully lined with concrete and as such it cannot have any effect on the ground water aquifers in the project area.
Raila said environmental experts have raised concerns about the effect of tunnelling the mountain in landscape as unstable as Murang'a, stating that continuing with the project would render the region more vulnerable to landslides.
But Wamalwa countered: "Contrary to assertions that NCT project is being undertaken without public participation, since August 2011 to present, several public participation forums have been held in both Murang'a and Nairobi."
He said the county assembly debated over the project and endorsed it.
Raila challenged World Bank to explain to Kenyans why it approved the funding of the project contrary to the World Bank Group Environment, Health and Safety Guidelines.
Raila further wants Murang'a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria to immediately withdraw his government's consent entered five months ago with Athi Water Services Board.
He recommended the formation of a consultative panel of stakeholders to bring together all the communities living in the Tana River basin together with Government agencies.