Agency warns of looming dam spill as 300,000 set to lose homes

Turkwel Dam

Turkwel dam in West Pokot County.The dam was built between 1986 and 1991.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Environmentalists and local leaders have raised the alarm, saying, the dam is a disaster-in-waiting, threatening to submerge adjacent communities.
  • Water level at the dam was at 1148.18 metres above sea level last week, with only 1.82 metres remaining before attaining the spilling level.

Hopes were high when the government pumped Sh6 billion into Turkwel hydro-power project in West Pokot County, but three decades down the line,  it’s an accident waiting to happen.

The dam was constructed from 1986 to 1991 in a remote village on the boundary of Pokot North and Turkana South sub-counties under Kerio the Valley Development Authority (KVDA).

Disaster-in-waiting

Environmentalists and local leaders have raised the alarm, saying, the dam is a disaster-in-waiting, threatening to submerge adjacent communities.

They cited heavy siltation of Suam River Basin that drains into the Turkwel Gorge because of environmental degradation.

This, in turn, results from destruction of water catchments that have suffered heavy soil erosion caused by poor agricultural practices.

Water level at the dam was at 1148.18 metres above sea level last week, with only 1.82 metres remaining before attaining the spilling level.

KVDA Managing Director Sammy Naporos yesterday said technical teams are on the ground to ensure the spillage does not wreak havoc on the communities living around the dam.

“Based on the current rainfall scenario, the dam is expected to spill on December 15. The downstream outflow maximum will be 17 cubic metres per second,” the MD said.

“This additional flow to Turkwel is not expected to cause flooding along the river and Lodwar town,” he added.

Water Resources Authority Chief Executive Officer Mohammed Shurie said the ongoing rains in the Mt Elgon catchment has made water level at the dam to rise beyond the highest point ever reached (1139.24 metres above sea level as of November 12, 2012.

“The authority wishes to notify communities living downstream along River Turkwel of impending floods,” Mr Shurie warned

He added that more than 300,000 people downstream River Turkwel, including residents of Katilu, Kalemnyang, Loyapat, Lodwar, Nakwamoru and settlements on the shores of Lake Turkana risked displacement.

Environmentalists have petitioned the government to allocate more funds towards the Suam conservation project to check siltation, which is partly blamed for the rising waters.

The dam was built by French firm Spie Batkinolles.

“Locals had anticipated to benefit economically and socially from the project, but the dam now risks wreaking havoc due to the drastic rise of water levels,” environmental expert Jackson Kwemoi said.

The dam — the property of KVDA — can store 1,641 million cubic metres of water. The government has leased it to the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen).

West Pokot leaders led by Governor John Lonyangapuo have petitioned the two State corporations to step up afforestation around the Suam River Basin, which stretches down from Mt Elgon to the Turkwel Gorge.

Protracted wrangles

“We’ve embarked on afforestation programme to restore water catchment areas,” Prof Lonyangapuo said.

KVDA, on the other hand, is demanding Sh431 million annually from KenGen, with part of the money going to Suam conservation project to check silting at the dam.

The projects generate annual revenue of about Sh1.6 billion, but remits only Sh45 million to the regional development body for conservation, according to KVDA records.

 KenGen and KVDA have been locked in protracted wrangles over change of ownership of the plant.

The differences were sparked by the government’s decision to hand over the management of power generation to KenGen while KVDA maintained the geo-physical activities of the dam.

The second phase of the power project comprised agricultural development downstream to benefit communities.

An estimated 1,200 acres were to be put under crops through irrigation at a cost of Sh500 million donated by the French Government.

The irrigation was to cover Nakwamoru and Lorogon and act as a buffer zone to contain rustling and banditry. But it failed to take off following claims of political interference and alleged embezzlement of the funds.

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