Increased human activities threaten source of Nairobi River

Geofrey Mbugua Mutura, senior chief Kikuyu during tour of the Ondiri Swamp

KIKUYU, KENYA: Residents of Kikuyu town are at risk of water shortage in the future if conservation measures are not stepped up to protect Ondiri swamp.

The swamp which is in Kiambu County recharges Kikuyu springs-a source of water for the Nairobi River- and has four boreholes around it with total capacity of 245 cubic meters of water per hour used by the Kikuyu town residents.

Leaders and conservationists say the swamp is in danger as encroachment on riparian land and intensive agriculture through greenhouses have emerged. They say encroachers have also acted in violation of regulations protecting wetlands, seized land and planted thirsty fast-growing eucalyptus trees.

The concerns supports study report by the Water Resource Management Authority (WRMA) which raises questions into the future of the swamp.

The 2011 study into ground water recharge of Kikuyu Springs says land use changes, encroachment of Ondiri Swamp and escalating groundwater abstraction are a source of concern about the long-term sustainability of the Kikuyu Springs as a public water supply source.

“We foresee a situation of water shortage if measures are not put in place to protect Ondiri, it is not only significant to Kikuyu town but also Nairobi as it recharges Kikuyu springs which supplies the Nairobi River,” said Geofrey Mbugua Mutura, senior chief Kikuyu.

“Trees planted years ago around the swamp to act as boundary have been cut and individuals are on large scale agricultural projects putting the swamp and its water in danger,” he said.

In an interview, the Kiambu water Company Technical Manager Nginyo Njoroge said the company is incurring additional costs in treating water in the four boreholes around the swamp for the town as rate of chemicals has gone up following agriculture around the area.

 “Most of the chemicals used in the greenhouses gets into the swamp and contaminates the water, this calls for extra resources in treating our boreholes before water is supplied to Kikuyu town for use,” he notes.

Some of the green houses around Ondiri swamp; residents claim chemicals from them drain to the swamp

Conservationists say Ondiri swamp is a key ecosystem and if protection measures are not drafted urgently will expose surrounding communities to suffering and lose of income through tourism activities.

“In 1998 when I visited this area with my fellow conservationists, we were able to record 23 species of birds in one afternoon, in 2004 Dr Thuita Nthenya and Jane Macharia from National Museums Wetlands department came and conducted baseline study and within one morning were able to record 41 species of birds,” recalls Naftali Mungai, community member and a conservationist.

“This is no longer the same as most of the birds have disappeared due to destructions around here, it no longer attracts tourists who came here to watch and study the birds,” he says.

In a strong advocacy for the protection of the swamp, East Africa Wildlife Society (EAWS) says together with other streams from Ondiri wetland, the swamp forms a significant catchment area for the Nairobi River.

“The main outflow of the wetland is to the south and east, where several streams join to form the headwaters of Nairobi River,” said Charles Mwangi EAWLS Head of Programes.

It is linked to Kikuyu Springs, a major source of water in Nairobi.

“This is a resource that needs protection for continuity in the provision of water for domestic use, irrigation and livestock, more so during the dry season.”


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