Human activity threatens important water tower

Kaptagat Forest, a water tower in the Mau complex, is under threat of extinction due to human activity.

The ecosystem that has over the years been a large water catchment and a source for water bodies in Elgeyo Marakwet and Uasin Gishu counties is slowly depleting and urgent measures are required to restore it.

A man ferries firewood to Eldoret town from Kaptagat Forest. The forest, a major water tower in the region, is threatened by logging and cattle grazing. (PHOTO: ELIUD KIPSANG/STANDARD)

Activities including agriculture, illegal logging, charcoal burning and firewood harvesting have exerted a lot of pressure on the catchment, posing a great threat to the livelihoods of those who depend on it for sustenance.

The largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem in Kenya could lose its lustre due to the activity that needs to be controlled to restore the cover and minimise the effects of climate change.

Residents in the region can recall the not-so-distant past when the forest was still rich with indigenous species of trees.

Forest cover

In a bid to avert further destruction of the water catchment, a conservation group named Kaptagat Forest Initiative has started efforts to reverse the destruction of the forest cover.

The group comprises community-based organisations, Kenya Forest Service, community forest associations among others’

According to Cornelius Chepsoi, the Chairman of Eldoret Water and Sanitation Company (Eldowas), there is competition for water as the population continues to increase.

Mr Chepsoi (pictured) said residents living upstream have embraced irrigation and therefore need more water. He said there is need to build water dams to address the rising water requirement in urban centres.

Kaptagat is a key source of water for dams in the region.

The conservation initiative comes at a time when Eldowas is planning to build a dam capable of holding a capacity of 70,000 cubic metres to meet the increasing water need.

“Without conserving this forest, it will not be possible to sustain the existing dams and it’s not practical to create another dam dependent on the existing rivers,” Chepsoi added.

The demand for water for agriculture, energy, domestic and livestock use continues to increase against the diminishing water resource brought about by human activities for expansion and agriculture.

Paula Braitstein of the Pombo-Sabor Forest Users Conservation Group, said members of the community-based organisation that has launched tree-planting campaigns feel discouraged as their efforts have been futile over the last three years.

Although they have planted many trees, they have been destroyed due to overgrazing in the catchment area.

“Overgrazing is a major threat to tree planting and reforestation as animals destroy seedlings and contribute to soil erosion,” Ms Braitstein stated.

Water demand

This comes as levels in the dams that supply water to Eldoret town continue to recede due to the depletion of forest cover and rising demand for water.

“To make conservation a reality, it requires primarily the input of leadership, without it, nothing will thrive in conservation efforts,” she said.

Ezekiel Rotich, a resident of Pombo-Sabor forest in Kaptagat forest emphasised the need to protect the rivers and streams that feed the dams.

“There should be protection of small streams and this can be achieved by creating a buffer zone of about 500m along the big rivers and 200m on small streams on both sides to protect the water sources from destruction due to encroachment,” Rotich said.

“There has been constant degradation of forests for timber, firewood and livestock. Without replenishing, the water table continues to recede yearly,” he added.

He noted that the solution lies in fencing Sabor, Benon and Kaptagat areas to keep livestock out of the forest. He said the county government should contribute money towards the conservation efforts.

Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago has been at the forefront in urging the Government to gazette the forest and declare it a water tower. He has asked the national government to take urgent measures to stop logging in the forest and to conduct planting of indigenous trees to conserve rivers and dams.