Con­ser­va­tion­ists say dams will in­ter­fere with flow of wa­ter to re­serve

The East African - - OUTLOOK - By KENNEDY SENELWA Spe­cial Correspondent

The Mara River project threat­ens the Serengeti ecosys­tem.

Kenya’s plan to build dams on the River Mara and its trib­u­taries poses a threat to the rich an­i­mal and plant life of Serengeti ecosys­tem that at­tracts tourists.

The habi­tat, com­pris­ing, Serengeti Na­tional Park in Tan­za­nia and Ma­sai Mara game re­serve in Kenya has the River Mara as the only per­ma­nent source of wa­ter for the herds of wilde­beest and other wildlife that mi­grate be­tween the two coun­tries.

Con­ser­va­tion­ists are con­cerned that the iconic ecosys­tem un­til re­cently threat­ened by a ma­jor new high­way in Tan­za­nia will now face a new peril from the dams.

Such dams could po­ten­tially re­duce the amount of wa­ter flow­ing from Kenya to Tan­za­nia and could spark a diplo­matic spat should the EAC agree­ment be in­voked in sup­port or cen­sure of the pro­posed projects.

Prof Eric Wolan­ski of James Cook Uni­ver­sity, Aus­tralia, says in­ter­na­tional ef­forts are needed to save the Serengeti as Kenya stands to reap all the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of the dams while Tan­za­nia will re­main sad­dled with en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

“Tan­za­nia has to be in­volved as an equal part­ner with Kenya in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing about man­ag­ing the Mara and Ewaso Ngiro rivers. If that is not pos­si­ble, then the fi­nanc­ing of these dams must be stopped,” he said.

Eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter

The River Mara de­pends on Kenya’s Mau For­est, whose catch­ment area al­ready faces in­creased for­est de­struc­tion and di­ver­sion of wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion down­stream. These could ef­fec­tively dry up the river dur­ing times of drought.

The planned dams are Nor­era (10 me­tres high) and Mun­gango (30 me­tres). The Mara is formed after the con­flu­ence of the Amala and Nyan­gores Rivers. Fur­ther, wa­ter that makes up Masarua swamp will de­cline should Tan­za­nia see through a plan to build the Borenga dam on the lower reaches of the River Mara past the Serengeti.

En­vi­ron­ment lobby Serengeti Watch has is­sued an alert that the is­sue of the Mara is trans-boundary and that im­per­illing the river’s wa­ter could spell sure death for the Serengeti as a tourism des- tina­tion and im­por­tant ves­tige of the sa­vanna ecosys­tem.

“An eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter would be­fall the Serengeti ecosys­tem should a se­ries of Kenya dams be built up­stream of the Mara river,” said Berry Blan­ton, the lobby group’s me­dia di­rec­tor.

He said the idea of Kenya’s pro­posed 65-me­tre tall Amala High Dam would di­vert wa­ter from the river and store it in an­other wa­ter­shed in or­der to feed wa­ter back into the Serengeti dur­ing the dry sea­son.

The Nor­era dam is to re­ceive wa­ter from the Nyan­gores River that will also host the Mun­gango and Silib­wet ir­ri­ga­tion dams. Amala High Dam in the Mau For­est will have a tun­nel to trans­fer wa­ter from the Amala to the Ewaso Ngiro River for power gen­er­a­tion by Ole­tukat Olenku­luo, Leshoto and Ol­dorko dams.

The Ole­tukat Olenku­luo 140- me­tres, Leshoto (57 me­tres) and Ol­dorko (30 me­tres) will dis­charge wa­ter into Tan­za­nia’s Lake Na­tron lead­ing to di­ver­sion of the Mara river wa­ter to the lake and flood­ing of nest­ing sites of 75 per cent of the lesser flamingo.

None of the dams has been con­structed yet, but the Serengeti will die if Kenya dams the Mara.” Prof Eric Wolan­ski of James Cook Uni­ver­sity, Aus­tralia

Po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion

The 10 me­tre high Nor­era dam on the Mara for ir­ri­ga­tion is 30km up­stream of Serengeti. Mun­gango (30 me­tre) and Silib­wet (70 me­tre) dams on the Nyan­gores River are also for ir­ri­ga­tion.

“None of these dams has been con­structed yet, but the fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies, ex­cept for Amala High Dam, were com­pleted by 2016,” said Mr Wolan­ski in a study ti­tled “The Serengeti will die if Kenya dams the Mara.”

He said the study, done jointly with Tan­za­nia Na­tional Parks se­nior man­agers Bakari Mnaya and Mtango Mti­hiko, con­cludes that the Serengeti will face eco­log­i­cal col­lapse dur­ing a ma­jor drought as Kenya’s dams will with­hold wa­ter.

The Nor­era dam will re­lease a min­i­mum en­vi­ron­men­tal flow (MEF) of 100 litres per sec­ond. This is one third of the Mara River’s MEF of 300 litres as rec­om­mended by the Lake Vic­to­ria Basin Com­mis­sion of the EAC.

Wa­ter will flow through 30 km of land un­der in­ten­sive ir­ri­ga­tion rais­ing po­ten­tial of Mara river to dry up upon en­ter­ing the Serengeti. Nor­era is ex­pected to re­ceive 39 per cent of wa­ter from Nyan­gores river.

“Mun­gango and Silib­wet dams will de­crease low flow by 100 litres per sec­ond, but this im­pact was not in­cluded in Nor­era pro­posal and dou­ble chances this dam will not re­lease MEF,” said Mr Wolan­ski.

Nor­era pro­posal is based on a mean an­nual flow cal­cu­lated over 22 years of data but in a dry year the an­nual flow is only 51 per cent of the mean flow, hence in such a year the op­er­a­tor has only half of the wa­ter ex­pected.

“Be­ing short of wa­ter, the Kenyan op­er­a­tor has ei­ther to re­lease the MEF for Serengeti and kill the ir­ri­ga­tion fields and hurt lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, or re­tain wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion and kill the Serengeti. This be­comes a lo­cal po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion, with Tan­za­nia hav­ing no say,” the study says.

World Bank safe­guard poli­cies have been breached by the Nor­era pro­posal, which states in­cor­rectly that the Mara River is not an in­ter­na­tional wa­ter­way and so, the de­vel­op­ment, there­fore, does not af­fect forests.

The to­tal an­nual stor­age and use would be 115 to 185 per cent of an­nual flow in a drought year, and the dams re­quire more wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion than is avail­able, leav­ing noth­ing for min­i­mum en­vi­ron­men­tal flow.

The Amala High dam will lead to flood­ing and de­struc­tion of large ex­panses of the Mau for­est and fur­ther de­crease the Mara River dry sea­son flows. In the dry sea­son in a drought year, there will be zero MEF for Masarua swamp in Tan­za­nia.

Pic­ture: File

Wilde­beest cross the Mara River. Tourists visit Maa­sai Mara game re­serve to watch the an­nual spec­ta­cle when the an­i­mals cross into Tan­za­nia’s Serengeti na­tional re­serve to calf.

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