Why catchment conservation is non-negotiable in Mutara
Whether as a result of a myth or a perceived curse, Mutara River and its source are a perfect case of how community ownership and attachment to environment conservation can make an impact on climate resilience. The nearly two-kilometre walk between Mutara Water Intake, meandering through the bushes along River Mutara to the river source, is scenic. The conserved species of natural vegetation, the buzzing sounds of honey bees in hives curved out of tree trunks of decades-old indigenous trees, the insects and the singing birds paint the picture of tranquillity. The air is fresh and hugs the lungs with each breathe. Mutara Water Catchment area is in Ndaragua Constituency, Nyandarua County. The locals here tell tales of how vengeful nature can be if provoked, and why it is in their best interest to leave the biodiversity alone. The river originates in a five-acre forest in Ndaragua. It’s water is for domestic and irrigation use by farmers in Nyandarua and neighbouring Laikipia County. The sustained flow of the river has motivated both county governments to start a Sh300 million water project, but the community on the Nyandarua side won’t allow the development to proceed unless assured of conservation measures to protect the river and the catchment area. The community denied the Nyandarua County government access to the six-acre public land where the water project intake was designed to be installed, saying the targeted piece of land is part of the river’s catchment area and must therefore not be tampered with for whatever reason. The said land is less than a kilometre from River Mutara’s source. "We tried to negotiate with the community, but we finally agreed with them that the catchment area needs to be protected. They have done a good job conserving the river and catchment area. We resolved not to tamper with the land and instead buy 10 acres to plant more trees. The land will cost Sh50 million above the initial projected cost of the water project. We are negotiating with the national government to financially support us to implement the water project," said Nyandarua Water, Environment and Climate Change Executive Samuel Mugo. Apart from protecting the catchment area, the farmers have embraced smart climate farming practices as a way of protecting the water. Usage of diesel or petrol-driven generators is not allowed here. Instead, the farmers use hydraulic water and air-propelled irrigation machines. The locally manufactured cylinder-made irrigation machine also controls water wastage as the pump is connected to a smaller water capacity holding pipes, just enough for intended irrigation. “Apart from polluting the river, the diesel and petrol driven generators use large pipes and the water is largely wasted at the farm. These hydram or hydraulic ram water machines use smaller diameter pipes for enough water needed to sprinkle the farms,” says Joseph Mwangi, the Ndaragua Sub-County water engineer. Apart from being environment friendly, the engineer says the hydram is cheap to buy, economical in maintenance and preserves water for downstream communities. A village elder, David Muhoho, explains that between the intake and catchment area, there are deadly wells measuring about five feet in diameter though some are wider and are said to have swallowed elephants and other wildlife whole, while human beings have narrowly escaped death; including his mother. This fear of death is one of the reasons the villagers leave the area largely undisturbed. “There were about 10 such wells, we suspect they form an underground river to a destination we can’t tell. Most of the wells have silted due to human activity especially farming and encroachment by farmers on Laikipia side who cultivate right to the river bank and plant commercial eucalyptus trees right along the river. These human activities affect the water volumes downstream. His sentiments are confirmed by a colonial water gauge down River Mutara with water levels at 20 centimetres contrary to years back when the readings went up to 260 centimetres. Joseph Wamucii, a youth leader involved in the environment conservation along the river and the catchment area, says political goodwill is needed to protect the river and the water sources if the planned water project is to serve the intended population.