Mau Forest Complex Water Tower is the most important Water Tower in Kenya that supports millions of livelihoods nationally, regionally as well as internationally. It covers an area of 455,000 hectares and is as large as the forests of Mt. Kenya and the Aberdare Range combined. The Water Tower comprises 22 forest blocks stretching across 6 counties namely: Baringo, Bomet, Kericho, Nakuru, Narok and Uasin Gishu.

 

The Water Tower is a major catchment for 13 major rivers namely Amalo, Ewaso-Ng’iro, Makalia, Mara, Molo, Mumberes, Naishi, Nderit, Njoro, Nzoia, Nyando, Sondu and Yala. The rivers feed into five major lakes in Kenya and across the borders. These are:  Lake Baringo, Lake Nakuru, Lake Natron, Lake Turkana and Lake Victoria. The water tower is also the source of River Nile that drains into Mediterranean Sea through Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt making it a lifeline to millions of people in the region.

 

Mau Forest Complex Water Tower breathes life into the Masai Mara and Seregeti National Reserves. The major wildebeest migration across Mara River dubbed the 8th Wonder of the World greatly depends on water from the Mau Complex Water Tower. The annual scenic event is classified by UNESCO World Heritage as one of the most impressive nature spectacles in the world. The water tower and its ecosystem contributes immensely to Kenya’s economic development through tourism, agriculture, pastoralism, biodiversity and hydro-electric power generation.

 

On 15th January 2020, Kenya received great news from the United Kingdom Government that the Mau Forest Complex Water Tower had been admitted to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC). The admission means that the largest water tower in east Africa will be part of highly-conserved forests like the Great Bear Forest in Canada, Arboretum of Ruhande in Rwanda, and Kawari Forest Reserve in Nigeria. Except the Maasai Mau Water Tower that is registered as a trust land under the Trust Lands Act, the other twenty-one blocks in the Complex are gazzeted as forests. The entire Mau Complex is listed as a critical water tower under the Kenya Water Towers Agency Order of 20th April 2012. Some of the threats facing the Water Tower are: Encroachments, Illegal charcoal production, and Illegal logging.

 

The impact of these human-induced degradations has been catastrophic with reduced river flows, frequent floods, prolonged droughts, food shortage, poor land productivity, conflict over resources including water and pasture among others.

 

Reclamation

The Government of Kenya has put in place an ambitious plan to reclaim and restore the Mau Complex Water Tower. In 2009, the Government recovered 19,000 hectares in South-West Mau Water Tower. The people who voluntarily moved out of the water tower were resettled in Chemusian, Baringo County while others were paid Ksh. 400,000 to buy lands elsewhere.  

 

In 2018, under Phase I reclamation exercise, 4,500 hectares of forest land in Maasai Mau was recovered. In 2019, under Phase II reclamation, the government recovered 17,101 hectares that comprised Kamwengoi, Siera Leone, and Kipchoge. Therefore, the Government has reclaimed a total of 40,000 hectares in ten years.

Cherangani Hills water tower is one of Kenya’s ‘big five’ water catchments. It covers an area of 120,841ha with 67% in Elgeyo-Marakwet, 31% in West Pokot and the rest in Tranz-Nzoia all being counties found in the Rift Valley region. A 5km buffer zone around the forest has244,404 ha adding up to 365,245 hafor the water tower. The tower consists of 12 protectedforest blocks that include Kapolet Block in Trans- Nzoia County, Kapkanyar and Lelan blocks in West Pokot County and Cheboyit, Chemurkoi, Embobut, Kaisungor, Kerrer, Kipkunur, Kiptaberr, Sogoio and Toropket in Elgoyo Marakwet.

 

The Cherangani Hills water tower is an important watershed area between Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana basins. The water tower hosts critical headwaters for Nzoia, Turkwel (also known as Suam) and Kerio rivers. These rivers are important as Nzoia drains to the trans-boundary Lake Victoria which is the source of River Nile while Turkwel and Kerio drain into Lake Turkana. Additionally, the Turkwel River is a source of water for the Turkwel dam that is used ingeneration of hydro-electric power. The streams tothe West of the watershed feed the Nzoia river system while those to the East feed Kerio river system, those to the North feed Turkwel river system.

Mt. Elgon water tower is among the five major water towers in Kenya and a key water catchment for the Rift valley drainage system. The water tower lies between Kenya and Uganda and is named after the Elgeyo tribe, who once lived in huge caves on the southern side of the mountain. The water tower covers 72,874 ha part of which is gazetted as a National Park, and another part as a Forest Reserve. The Kenyan side of the water tower falls within Bungoma and Trans-Nzoia Counties.

 

The climate varies from moist to moderate dry with an average annual rainfall is 1,270 mm with early rains occurring between March-June-August and latter rains August-October. The water tower is a catchment area for the drainage systems of Lakes Victoria and Turkana in Kenya and Kyoga in Uganda. It supports a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna and is a habitat to 37 globally threatened faunal species.

 

The key threats facing Mt. Elgon water tower are uncontrolled exploitation of endangered tree species; and limited awareness on importance of conservation and protection of the water tower.

The Arberdare Range has a maximum elevation of 3,999 metres above sea level and is heavily forested. The Aberdares are the water catchment area for the Sasumua and Ndakaini dams, which provide most of the water for Nairobi. The mountain forests are catchment areas for the Tana River, the largest river in Kenya, supplying water to the Seven Forks hydroelectric power complex which generates over 55 percent of Kenya’s total electricity output.

 

The major rivers from Aberdare Forest are Athi and Tana, which flow into the India Ocean, Ewaso Nyiro that drains into the Lorian Swamp and River Malewa that drains into Lake Naivasha. The Athi, Lake Naivasha, Tana and Ewaso Nyiro river basins have their source in Aberdare Forest Reserve. The area around the forest reserve has very high agricultural potential due to the fertile soils and reliable rainfall. Farming is thus the main stay of the economy of the forest adjacent communities around the ecosystem. Other land uses include, livestock, wildlife, tourism, forestry, fishing, urbanization, settlements.

 

There are however various threats to the conservation of the water tower that have been identified which include: Illegal logging, over-grazing livestock and wildlife grazing, poaching of wildlife, illegal water abstraction and over abstraction, destruction of riparian areas, marijuana and tobacco cultivation, excisions and encroachment of forest area, lack of adequate information on the water towers, lack of clear boundaries of the forests, inadequate documentation of the natural resources contained in it and its potential for economic and livelihood purposes. There is also eminent threat by climate change and global warming, which may alter the species composition of these areas.

As a vitally important water tower providing ecosystem services to millions of people and businesses in Kenya, Mount Kenya can be viewed as the heart and lungs of the country. People’s livelihoods, the Kenyan economy, rich biodiversity and endangered species are all threatened by the pressures on Mount Kenya’s diverse and biologically rich ecosystems. Mount Kenya has given its name to the country in which it stands. Rising on the equator to a height of 5,199 m, it is Africa’s second-highest mountain, after Kilimanjaro in the neighboring United Republic of Tanzania. It was formed some 3 million years ago by volcanic activity and is a circular mountain with a base diameter of 60 km.

Rivers which start on Mount Kenya are the tributaries of two large Kenyan rivers: the Tana and the Ewaso Ng’iro rivers. A lot of Mount Kenyan rivers flow into the Sagana which itself is a tributary of the Tana, which it joins at the Masinga Reservoir. The rivers in the northern part of the mountain, such as the Burguret, Naru Moru, Nanyuki, Liki, Sirimon flow into the Ewaso Ng’iro. The rivers to the south-west, such as the Keringa and Nairobi flow into the Sagana and then into the Tana. The remaining rivers to the south and east, such as the Mutonga, Nithi, Thuchi and Nyamindi, flow directly into the Tana.

Mt. Marsabit Water Tower is one of the few water towers with virgin forests. The indigenous trees ageing up to a century lends the water tower a pristine look.

The Water Tower falls within Saku sub-county in Marsabit County and lies between latitude 2.2648 N and longitude 37.9797 E covering an area of 48,348 ha. Mt Marsabit has 15,701 ha of gazetted forest and 32,647 ha of the buffer zone. The National Park and Reserve extend beyond the Water Tower and covers an area of 155,000 ha. The Water Tower traverses 12 locations namely; Nagayo, Dakabaricha, Mountain, Jireme, Karare, Songa, Hulahula, Sagante, Qilta, Dirib Gombo, Jaldesa and Marsabit Game Reserve.

 

Pastoralism is the main socio-economic activity practiced in this Water Tower. However, few local community members in the area have embraced farming to supplement their household needs. Other socio-economic activities that are practiced in small-scale include poultry keeping and business enterprises. This has been adopted as an adaptation measure to the impacts of climate change.

 

The dominant land cover as of 2019 was grassland of 30,817 ha (64%) with open grassland being 9,178 ha while forestland covered an area of 12,400 ha (26%). Cropland was at 4,180 ha (9%) while built up and bare areas at 739 ha (2%). Open water area covered 130 ha.

The degradation levels in this Water Tower is mainly categorized as medium covering an area of 39,823 (82%). This is because of influence of high percentage of forest cover in the gazetted forest, grassland in the buffer zone and the slope. Nine percent (4,499ha) is under high level of degradation while 3,990 ha (8%) under low levels.

 

The Water Tower faces threats such as overgrazing and overstocking, charcoal production and unsustainable firewood collection, encroachment, increased demand for construction materials and inter-community conflict over natural resources.

Mt Marsabit is home to elephants, buffalos, greater/lesser kudus, hyenas, grevy’s zebras, kirk’s dik-dik, reticulated giraffes, lions, leopards and baboons.

Marmanet Water Tower is located on the eastern escapment of the Rift valley, North of Nyahururu. It comprises of five forests reserves; Lariak, Marmanet, Ol Arabel, Rumuruti and Uaso Narok. Marmanet Water Tower is one of the water towers that serve the rift valley drainage system. The Marmanet forests are catchments for four rivers; Ewaso Nyiro north, Mukutan, Ol Arabel and Sandai. Rivers flowing from the forest provide water to major conservation areas including Lake Baringo, Lake Bogoria National Reserve, Buffalo Springs national reserve, Shaba National Reserve and also drain into Lorian Swamp in Wajir County.

 

Rivers like Ewaso Nyiro north from the catchments also provide water to urban areas including Archer’s Post, Ol Donyo and Kipsing Trading centres, including tourist facilities in the protected areas. The Marmanet and Ol Arabel forest reserves form the main upper catchment of Sandai River that drains into Lake Bogoria.

Nyambene National Reserve is a 265 Km2 conservancy named after the famous Nyambene Hills. The reserve was originally gazetted as a 640 Km2 conservation area under a Kenya legal notice 86.

 

The circular crater rises 73 M above the surrounding area. It has an average diameter of 800 M and an average crater depth below the rim of 140 M. The rim itself is between 80M to 100M thick. A small lake on the floor of Igombe crater evaporates to forma soda salt crust where the Meru people have been collecting salt for centuries.

 

Other attractions at the reserve include the Gerenuk antelope, the reticulated giraffe and Grevy’s zebra. Nyambene National Reserve has a healthy population of leopards, cheetahs and lions. The conservancy is also a bird watcher’s paradise hosting hundreds of species of birds. A 10 to 15 feet gulley which has formed provides the only entrance to the crater.The birds nesting place or Gachiuru as its locally called, is a bird watchers paradise in Nyambene conservancy. Populated with over 10,000 nests artistically hanging in acacia trees the birds are active during the morning hours and in the evenings. Birds to be found here include the great horned owl, doves, and the greater sage grouse amongst many others.

The Chyulu Hills water tower features a vast montane forest – savanna grassland ecosystem found in eastern Kenya. The Chyulu Hills rise to an altitude of 2,188m high and 150km, and are situated between the famous Amboseli and Tsavo Ecosystems. The eastern flank of the hills, including about half the forested area, is in the 47,100 ha Chyulu East National Park, while the western half is part of the ungazetted West Chyulu Game Conservation Area, owned by several Maasai group ranches.

 

Though the area has no surface rivers, it serves as the water catchment area for the surrounding plains up to 50kms away. The Chyulu range is composed of volcanic lava rock and ash, which is too porous to allow rivers to flow. Because of this, rain water trapped from moisture-laden breezes percolates into underground reservoirs which supply the likes of Mzima Springs, a series of four natural springs that serve the popular Tsavo West National Park as well as Umani Springs a key source of water that enables the flourishing of the magnificent Kibwezi forest.

Shimba Hills Water Tower is located in Kwale County in the Coastal Region. Parts of it are protected under the Forestry Act as gazetted forests (Mkongani North, Mkongani South and Shimba Hills) while sections of it are gazetted as a National Reserve under the Wildlife Act.

Shimba Hills Water Tower is a biodiversity conservation hotspot besides being a source of numerous springs and rivers, some of which are permanent. Four permanent rivers emanating from the Water Tower include Mkurumudzi, Manolo, Pemba and Ramisi. The Water Tower also hosts Marere Springs, an important source of water for Kwale and Mombasa counties.

The degradation of the Water Tower has also significantly contributed to reduced river/stream flows, increased siltation and water turbidity thus compromising the quality of drinking water. Shimba Hills Water Tower like many other natural ecosystems in the country faces a number of threats including but not limited to illegal logging, forest fires, poaching, and encroachment by settlements and agricultural activities, human wildlife conflicts and charcoal burning. As such, parts of the water tower are degraded and in need of rehabilitation through efforts like engaging communities to participate in tree planting to restore such areas, establishment of indigenous tree nurseries to provide a steady supply of seedlings, community sensitization among others.

Matthews Range water tower is situated in Samburu East Sub-County in Samburu County. It is 203, 858 ha in size, which include 96, 969 ha gazetted forest and 106,889 ha buffer zone. The water tower falls within the drainage basin of Ewaso Ng’iro North Catchment Area. It extends to three micro-catchment areas; Kauro, Seiya-Milgis and Ewaso Nyiro. There are three major rivers emanating from this Water Tower: Milgis, Kauro and Ewaso-Nyiro.  A total of 44 springs are found in this Water Tower with 75% being permanent and 25% being seasonal.

 

The gazetted forestland in the Water Tower is characterized by evergreen indigenous canopy that covers 70% of the area with the rest of the land being grassland and bare rocks at the hilltop.

 

The community living in this water tower is mainly Samburu; who are traditionally nomadic pastoralists. However, ecotourism development has become an important nature-based enterprise that has significantly changed lifestyles. Despite this, the water tower is threatened by human-wildlife conflict and poaching; overgrazing and charcoal production which has led to soil erosion and forest fires.

Mt. Kipipiri is located on the north western side of the Aberdares. It is detached from the main Aberdare range and sits in between Geta-bushi and Miharati areas. The Mt stands at an elevation of 3348 m above sea level. Mount Kipipiri is an isolated Volcano in the Wanjohi Valley, on the Kinangop Plateau near to the Aberdare Range. It is about 20 miles (32 km) northeast of Lake Naivasha, which is visible from the summit. Wildlife includes Colobus and Sykes monkeys, elephants and buffalo and abundant birdlife.

 Loita hills forest (Naimina Enkiyio Forest) is one of the water towers found in the Rift Valley south drainage system. It is located in Narok County in southern Kenya and is a dry season grazing ground for the pastoralist communities living adjacent to it. While the plains to the south and west of the hill forest are communally owned, the forest is legal trustland under the care of the Narok County Council.

 

Loita hills, is a significant water catchment area in the dry lands of Southern Kenya and borders the Mara game reserve. The water tower supports the livelihood of the pastoralist communities who consider this as a dry season grazing area. It is also a significant water source for the variety of wildlife found here and in the adjacent game reserves and national parks.

Mount Nyiru Water Tower is located in Samburu County in the northern part of Kenya. In 1990, Nyiru water tower covered an area of 45,318 ha. This cover comprised 26,107ha of forest and 19,211ha of grasslands. By the year 2010, forestland occupied 22,224 ha (49%) of the gazetted forest while the rest was mainly grassland which occupied 14,844 ha (33%) and other lands had 8,249 ha (18%). In the period 1990 – 2010, a net of 3,783 ha of forestland was lost within the gazetted forest while in the buffer strip, a net of 4,210 ha of forestland was lost. Tuum and South Horr sub-locations had the greatest loss of forest cover of 1,668 ha and 974 ha respectively. There were also losses of forestland in Simale, Karungu, Ijuuk, Lonjorin and Uaso Rongai sub locations. The main river emanating from the Water Tower is Ol Arabel River.

Mount Kulal water tower is located in Marsabit County in Northern Kenya. It cuts across three locations namely Mount Kulal, Loiyangalani, and Kargi. The eastern and North-eastern part of the Water Tower drops down through semi-desert ecosystems to the hot lowlands of the Chalbi Desert. At the Western side lies Lake Turkana and a volcanic island (South Island). The Water Tower covers an area of 98, 547 ha which includes 45, 764 ha of community forest. It lies between Latitude 2.7242 and Longitude 36.9382.

 

The Water Tower serves Ewaso Ngiro North Catchment Area with a total number of 23 springs as documented by the community. 20 of them are permanent while three are seasonal. Most of springs are within the forested area of the Water Tower.

 

The communities living in the Water Tower are nomads whose livelihood is depended on pastoralism. The livestock includes camels, goats, sheep, cattle and donkeys and form a major source of household income. Some of the community members are practicing small scale farming and the main cash crop grown is Catha edulis (Miraa). Other economic activities include poultry keeping, small scale retail businesses (kiosks), sale of herbal medicine and beekeeping.

 

During the land cover and land use assessment carried out in 2019, it was established that the dominant cover was grassland covering 24,828 ha (54 %) of which 20, 973 ha was wooded grassland and 3,855 ha open grassland. This included glades that are common within the forest.

Forestland was characterized by evergreen closed indigenous canopy covering 16,272 ha (36%) whereby, 5,898 ha was dense forest and 10,375 ha was under moderate forest. Other land (settled area, bare land and rocks) covered 4,617 ha (10%), while cropland covered 46 ha (0.1%). A large section of other land and cropland classes were found in Gatab area where people have settled and initiated farming activities. 

 

Over 80 % of the Water Tower faces medium level of degradation which covers 84, 975 ha. The area under high and low levels of degradation is 3,240 ha and 10,319 ha respectively. The area under high level of degradation within the community forest is 2,827 ha. This is mainly to the north of the Water Tower in Arapal and Larachi locations. The area is at high elevation and has poor vegetation cover which is below the recommended 60%.

Some of the threats facing the Water Tower area overgrazing, resource conflicts, encroachment for settlement and illegal logging for firewood and construction materials. Others area forest fires, weak governance and human wildlife conflict.

Huri Hills Water Tower is a remote region of large lava cones bordering Ethiopia to the North and Kenya’s Chalbi Desert to the south and east. Five major rivers emanate from this Water Water. These are Laga Dambito, Laga Warembesa, Laga Rawana, Laga Ririba and Korowe.

 

During the dry seasons, water is inadequate for both human and livestock consumption. Communities in this area have come up with an innovative way of tapping mist as source of domestic water by wrapping polythene bags around some trees such as eucalyptus. 

 

The influx of communities searching for water, safety and grazing grounds has exerted pressure on the Water Tower. The local community has also lost cultural practices that were friendly to conservation. The forest cover has been declining overtime thus leading to decreased water volumes in the rivers. One of them is Ewaso Nyiro River that has witnessed major reduction in water volume. Mist has also been reduced significantly by the detrimental activities. With increased forest degradation, the ecosystem services provision of the Water Tower has been highly affected hence the need for urgent intervention measures. An estimated 25,631 ha is highly degraded and therefore requires rehabilitation through tree planting.

 

The Water Tower rises above 300 meters (985 feet) above the lava plateau, reaching 1524 meters (5000 feet) above sea level. This Water Tower covers an approximate area of 195,670 ha which includes Forole, Huri Hills, Elle Borr and Maikona sub-locations. Just north of the Huri Hills, separated by a descending plain of black-cotton-soil, lies the granitic Mount Forole (1887 meters; 6200 feet): a sacred mountain which marks the boundary of Kenya and Ethiopia.

 

The red sandy soils of the foothills of Mount Forole support grassy glades surrounded by (often dense) Acacia-Commiphora woodland, a vegetation type near perfect for warthogs. There is also an impressive diversity of birds in the Huri Hills and on Mount Forole. Most nights around the Water Tower in the month of November, people experience nights that are full of bird calls and songs. The more common birds include Donaldson-Smith’s sparrow-weaver, white-headed buffalo-weaver, crested lark and Somali short-toed lark among many others. The hills are also a home to many wild animals like of Bright’s gazelle and Beisa Oryx.

Kirisia Hills Water Tower (locally known as Lerroghi) is a block of 91,452 hectares of gazetted dry upland forest reserve, covering the Kirisia Hills. It is one of the largest water towers in Kenya found in Samburu County. The main rivers emanating from the water tower are Olketuloni River to the north, Mureiyia, Elbukoi, Nundoto and Pororo to the west, and Seiya to the south. There are about 45 dry riverbeds in the area signifying the existence of many seasonal rivers. Samburu County boasts of 12.8% tree cover, which is fairly good compared with 30 counties that are below 10% tree cover. The forest and the ecosystem around it are widely recognized as critical for maintaining the Samburu heartland as a functioning ecosystem, and particularly its role as a key habitat for wildlife and carbon storage. The forest ecosystem consists of dry cedar/olive forest, bush, bamboo, grassland and plantation. Kirisia receives rain in three rainfall peaks in a year; with the driest months occurring in January and February. It enjoys a relatively warm climate with mean annual temperature of between 24 o C and 33 o C. The forest has shallow soils of generally variable fertility levels. The area around the forest is dominated by a complex of well-drained, shallow, black to very dark brown loam soil. Kirisia Hills is a home to common park mammals such as vervet monkeys, giraffes, elephants and a wide range of insects and reptiles. The highland areas and plains have various vegetation cover and composition depending on the altitude and rainfall; with the hilltops displaying wide canopy and the lowlands having thick bushes and shrubs.
The Kirisia forest and biodiversity resident in the Kirisia ecosystem face considerable threats from fire, encroachment, dry season grazing, logging especially illegal extraction of cedar, unregulated collection of firewood, unprofessional debarking, charcoal production, intense lopping and cutting down of whole trees for fodder and collection of honey.

Dry riverbeds signify the impact of human threats to the water tower such as illegal logging, encroachment to forest land and bushfires. To enhance community livelihood activities and reinforce conservation of Kirisia Water Tower, Kenya Water Towers in 2018 donated 435 beehives and honey refinery equipment to Samburu Beekeepers Association. The Agency further supported Kirisia Community Forest Association with another 100 beehives in 2019. On 30 th December 2019, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Forestry, Mr. Keriako Tobiko, spearheaded a tree planting exercise that saw 11,000 seedlings planted in a span of one week with the aim of reclaiming and rehabilitating the water tower. The rehabilitation of Kirisia Water Tower is an initiative driven by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and supported by Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Water Towers Agency, Kenya Forestry Research Institute, County Government of Samburu, FAO Kenya, and Green Belt Movement among other partners.

Ndottos Ranges is located in north-eastern region of Samburu County. Ndottos Forest.Reserve covers an area of approximately 97,165 ha. The mountains lie between Mathew’s ranges and Mt. Nyiro to the south and north respectively. The Water Tower like the other mountain ranges, is a source of springs which usually dry up a few kilometers downstream due to high evaporation and percolation rates.

 

Mt. Poi, which is part of Ndottos ranges (2050m), resembles the world’s largest bread loaf from some angles and is a technical climber’s dream. The forest reserve is dominated by indigenous trees which make the forest highly productive economically. The vegetation in this catchment includes evergreen forest, bush land, shrub land and semi deciduous shrub land. Subsistence pastoralism is the main land use activity around Ndottos Ranges. Considering the local community is majorly pastoralist, the Water Tower provides dry season grazing areas which lead to large number of livestock. This however has led to encroachment for settlement in gazetted forest especially because of unclear forest boundary; and overgrazing which leads to soil erosion that causes flush floods. The annual flow for both the springs and rivers has been decreasing over the years due to deforestation and intensive use of water upstream. Forest fires are frequent in the Water Tower and are mainly caused by accidental fires when harvesting honey and also by pastoralists who burn vegetation to allow for re-growth.