Water is life: the current status of the Mara River in Kenya

Written by Emma Meurs, on 30 April 2015

The on-going dry season has put a lot of stress on the Mara River Basin and other parts of the region. The Mara River and its two main tributaries, the Amala and the Nyangores, have recorded some of the lowest discharge levels in a decade. The Mau Mara Serengeti Sustainable Water Initiative (MaMaSe) lead by IHE Delft aims to ensure that key forests and savannah eco-systems are protected or restored and wildlife as well as people have access to habitats and water resources needed at different times of the year, especially during periods of drought.

rapid assessment

The current low river flows have negative effects on water quality, quantity and the habitat available for fish and invertebrates community. The inefficient and poorly regulated uses of water for agriculture and other forms of development will be controlled and optimized through strategic planning, careful monitoring and regulation of the resources by water authorities.

In late March, the MaMaSe Initiative, through its partners in Mara River Basin, conducted a Rapid Assessment test along the Mara River and its tributaries. The assessment aimed to determine water quality variables along various sites along the Mara River and its
tributaries, assess habitat quality and diversity at the various sites, conduct a rapid assessment of invertrabrates communities and relate their composition to habitat diversity to water quality and assess the water quality and quantity status in relation to animal and human use.

As the team began the assessment up stream of the Amala Tributary at the Masese point, it became clear that the flow of the river had significantly reduced. Various tests including turbidity, pH and residual compositions tests showed that human and animal activity continues to ultimately control the quality of the water. According to Dr. Frank Masese of the research team, most of the pool samples carried out indicated a large amount of organic waste that reduced the oxygenation levels of the waters at all points. As the team progressed to midstream levels, local residents were curious to see what the initial findings for their water source would reveal.

Local Residents observations

Conversations with the local residents about diminished flows and quality of the river, pointed out the prolonged dry spell the region is currently experiencing. Esther Chepchirchir, a resident of the village Kapkoliwa on the Amala River, confirmed that over the years she has seen the water levels steadily but gradually reduce. She could relate the gradual decline of the water quality and quantity to human activities such as deforestation, poor land use especially on riparian land.

Further downstream the Mara River at the Mara Bridge, the impact of the dry spell was more evident. Turbidity and residual organic matter had very high readings indicating heavy human and animal contamination. At every point where the team sampled, cattle was seeking water directly at the source. Other activities by the residents such as doing laundry, bathing, and washing of cars and motor cycles right at the banks of the river were also visible.

Monitoring the Water Levels through Low Cost Equipment

The MaMaSe Initiative addresses water quality monitoring from a management perspective of the entire basin. The Initiative is supporting the Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA) in the operationalization of the water monitoring network. This is also done through experimental low cost technology (supported by IHE Delft) which collects real-time data in order to guide stakeholders in the basin on relevant action, not only in the dry spell but also when the water level goes up and flooding occurrences increase.

According to Patrick Meya of WRMA, with the data collected and analyzed the MaMaSe Initiative will record environmentally sustainable variables. This data using simulation can create forecasting models that will enable broad-based planning and interventions.

Water Allocation Plan

The MaMaSe Initiative will, amongst others, ensure the development of a sound water resources management strategy and capacity building of the Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA). In addition, the Initiative will work with WRMA to establish a comprehensive Water Allocation Plan for the Mara basin to ensure that those upstream have the same benefits of all natural resources as their counterparts downstream.

Michael McClain, Professor of Ecohydroloy and project leader of MaMaSe: “MaMaSe is quite unusual for IHE Delft, because it’s not strictly a capacity development project, a research project, or an educational project. It’s a large comprehensive programme that focuses on water safety and security, and we are working in many dimensions of the problem. One part of it is supporting government authorities that are responsible for resource management planning. We’re also working with the water users: helping small-scale farmers choose crops that are more economically profitable, so they not just produce more with the available water, but also earn more from what they produce. We’re also helping communities manage the range lands around the basin, to maximize the retention of water and the production of green vegetation, grass et cetera.”

Visit the MaMaSe website for more information.