Dispute over water project in Ukambani

Senator Johnstone Muthama wants a dam intended to ease water shortage in Kitui be re-chanelled to supply water to the local Machakos County first before being directed elsewhere.

Through his lawyer Dr John Khaminwa, the senator is seeking an order compelling the government and the Tanathi Water Services Board to ensure that the water harvested from Masinga Dam within Machakos County benefit the people of Masinga and Machakos first before being distributed to other neighbouring counties.

“The senator has said that the people of Machakos County are being sidelined in provision of water services and more specifically sanitation project that commenced in 2012,” Dr Khaminwa said.

His argument is that Masinga Dam is within Machakos County and should benefit the locals to their full satisfaction before the remainder is distributed to the people of Kitui County.

Mr Muthama said it is a motive by well-connected politicians to deprive the people of Machakos their own natural resources and therefore an act of discrimination.

He gave the court a brief history of the project saying that Phase 1 had been completed in 1999 with a total production of 9000 cubic metres per day.

Masinga sub-county takes the lion’s share of the water to a tune of 3000 cubic metres per day. The rest, 6000 cubic metres, is left for distribution among the rest of Machakos and Kitui counties.

The senator said currently the Masinga-Kitui water project serves over 200,000 people through 3,443 metre connections.

The government had earlier sued the senator over remarks he made in a rally objecting the ongoing works on the dam.

Ms Callen Masaka for the Attorney General told the court that the Machakos Senator had assembled his supporters and area leaders and assigns to disrupt the continuing works on the water project as well as demolishing the laid down structures and pipes.

Ms Jane Sein, the service provider Manager at Tanathi said that comparing the water providers in Kitui and Machakos, the latter has six water projects while Kitui has four. “Most parts of Machakos have water.”


Sh9.5bn set aside for irrigation

Irrigation has been put in focus in this year’s Budget to improve food supply.

Persistent droughts have created food shortage and this year, poor maize harvests are expected in the Rift Valley region, which is the country’s bread basket.

National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich allocated Sh9.5 billion for irrigation. Of this, Sh3.5 billion will go to Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme, which was revived in January.

Mr Rotich said the money will be used to put at least a million more acres under irrigation in Tana River and Kilifi counties.

Another Sh4.1 billion will be used to build dams and water pans for irrigation and domestic use. These reservoirs will be in arid and semi-arid areas where farming is difficult despite fertile soils.

The Treasury also allocated Sh2.7 billion for strategic grain reserves.

Mr Rotich said the aim is to transform agriculture and create jobs. Agriculture is the country’s economic backbone and was allocated Sh29.3 billion.

The minister said they intend to work with other countries and financial institutions to introduce an agribusiness fund for farmers.

Farmers will borrow from the fund to improve production.

Agribusiness processing industries, the Cabinet Secretary said, would be encouraged to spur agriculture growth.

He said the government will establish industrial clusters along the standard gauge railway line being constructed from Lamu to Nairobi.

The industrial clusters will boost agriculture.

Mr Rotich also said the government would continue subsidising smallholder farmers.

What has been ailing agriculture is failure by farmers to access farm inputs, especially fertiliser, due to high prices.

However, the subsidy has not been effective because it reaches farms late.

Inadequate supply of certified seeds has also been hurting agriculture. In 2013, maize harvests fell to 38.9 million bags from 39.7 million bags in 2012 according to this year’s economic survey.

Subsidised farm inputs boosted maize production in Malawi after being introduced by President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Smallholder farmers got subsidy vouchers to buy fertiliser and seeds. As a result, Malawi produced surplus grains for export.

This has now changed due to unpredictable weather.



World Bank gives Sh6.5bn for herders in arid regions

The World Bank has given Kenya a Sh6.5 billion grant to cushion livestock farmers against losses occurred during dry spells.

Agriculture and Livestock Principal Secretary Fred Segor said that the money will go towards the implementation of regional Pastoral Livelihoods Resilience Project (RPLRP) aimed at ending drought, emergency and livestock diseases.

“The project will be implemented in five years and will cover 14 counties in arid and semi-arid areas (ASAL). We want to manage and control livestock diseases,” said Prof Segor when he toured areas ravaged by drought in Baringo.

Part of the money will be used to buy affected livestock while the rest will go towards improving pasture and establishing hay stores in arid and semi-arid areas.

Baringo, Turkana, West Pokot, Lamu, Wajir, Kajiado, Samburu and Narok are some of the counties to benefit from the programme.

He said the government has put in place measures to combat effects of the drought.

These includes building pan dams and boreholes in conjunction with county governments.

“We call on county governments to put in place livestock disease prevention programmes. The devolved units should have continuous vaccination programmes not carrying them only during outbreaks of diseases,” said Prof Segor.

He also called on pastoralists living in arid areas not to wait until their animals start dying before selling them. They should be disposed earlier.

“Time has come for our pastoralists to be pro-active and store hay to feed their livestock during the dry season and dispose weak animals to avoid incurring losses  during the dry season,” said Prof Segor.

More than 1.6 million people in arid and semi-arid parts of Kenya are grappling with an acute food shortage due to erratic rainfall patterns last season.

According to Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru, the affected people require urgent food aid over the next six months to avert hunger-related deaths. She cited Mandera,Garissa,Isiolo,Wajir and parts of Tana River as the most needy counties where the government intends to stock depots with maize during this period.

In the North Rift alone, an estimated 400,000 people are in dire need of relief food supplies and other assistance as drought continues to bite.

Prices of maize in the North Rift have sky-rocketed in the last two months due to deteriorating supply, pushing it beyond the reach of many poor households.

A bag of maize is going for Sh3,400 up from Sh2,800 while that of wheat is selling at Sh3,600 up from Sh3,200.

Most farmers have stored their produce due to the shortage.
Ms Waiguru said the government is to spend Sh3 billion on measures to mitigate the effects of drought. More than Sh279 million from the drought contingency fund will also be distributed to 16 counties faced with food shortage.

The dry spell is fuelling conflict due to scramble for dwindling resources among pastoralists in West Pokot, Turkana, Baringo and Samburu counties.

The situation has adversely affected the livestock sector which is the main economic mainstay of pastoralists in the region.

Prices of cattle and goats have dropped drastically in arid areas as pastoralists frantically sell their animals due to lack of pasture.

The worst hit are livestock markets in Tiaty and Baringo North sub-counties where a cow which used to sell at Sh30,000 in early October is retailing at Sh10,000 while a goat which used to sell at between Sh4,000 and Sh5,000 can be bought at a mere Sh2,000.

The situation has adversely affected learning in some areas.

For instance, more than 10 schools in Tiaty Sub-County have closed after parents moved with their children to the neighbouring Samburu, Turkana and Elgeyo-Marakwet counties looking for pasture and water for their livestock.

Hurri Hills Primary school in northeast Kenya faces closure water shortage

Hurri Hills Primary School in North Horr Sub-County risks being closed over a biting water shortage that has left locals contemplating relocating from the area.

Pastoralist Community Initiative and Development Assistance programme Coordinator Wario Guyo said residents of Hurri Hills have been relying on rain and mist harvesting to sustain their subsistence farming and livestock keeping over the years.

“Hurri Hills has been (an oasis) in the middle of the desert but it is now desolate. The nearest boreholes are at Maikonna and Kalacha townships, which are over 60 kilometers away,” Mr Guyo told Nation.co.ke.

Several wells in the area have dried up due to a prolonged drought. Underground water tanks that the residents have been relying on have also dried up.

A resident of Hurri Hills, Mr Dacho Helle, lamented that every household gets 80 litres of water per week, which cannot sustain their domestic needs.

“The County government has assigned one water bowser to Hurri Hills. The bowser delivers water twice per week and each household is allowed to fetch only 40 litres to serve two days. The water is hardly sufficient to serve people and livestock,” Mr Helle said.

He said residents can no longer afford to pay Sh17,000 required to transport water.

“When the County government brought the lorry, they gave us 2,000 litres of fuel. From then, residents have to pay Sh8,800 for fuel, Sh5,000 as county government levy, Sh2,300 for the driver’s wages and Sh1,500 for borehole maintenance for every trip,” he lamented.

Mr Mohamed Shariff, a resident, told Nation.co.ke that parents at Hurri Hills Primary school have met and discussed whether to move their children to other areas.

“If the situation persists, the school’s water reserves will also be affected. Some Children have been going to school without taking breakfast because there is no water.

“I have no water in my house because I gave the last drop to a mother who has a young child. If we don’t get help, we will have to relocate,” Mr Shariff said.

Ms Dibo Abudho said that children and pregnant women had been hit hardest by the water shortage.

“We cannot bathe or wash our clothes because we can’t afford to waste water. Those with money are transporting their clothes to Maikonna, which is 75 kilometres away, for washing,” Ms Abudho said.

According to Mr Mamo Boru, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) director in Marsabit County, Hurri Hills had a forest cover of 30,000 hectares in the 1970s

Nairobi taps may run dry as Sh10bn plan stalls over lack of approval for financing

Taps in Nairobi homes could suddenly run dry because water and sewerage projects worth more than Sh10 billion face imminent stagnation for lack of a board to approve their financing.

The mega projects by the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company had been approved by a board appointed by Governor Evans Kidero before it was sued in court in 2014.

Some estates that could soon have a persistent water shortage are South C, South B, Imara Daima and those along Mombasa Road.

Others could be along Thika Road and Eastlands.

Already, estates in Lang’ata Constituency and areas along Mombasa Road are facing an acute water shortage, with the worst hit being Nyayo Highrise and Madaraka.

The Kidero board — which was being chaired by Mr Raphael Nzomo in an acting capacity — was set to begin construction of a raw water pipeline from Mataara in Gatundu North to Ng’ethu water works.

The pipeline would pass through Kabete before supplying water to estates along Mombasa Road.

According to confidential documents seen by Sunday Nation, the Sh3.5 billion project targets supply of water to estates in Lang’ata and Kibra constituencies, as well as the posh Karen estate.


Set to be completed in 2015-2016 financial year, the project is yet to start and was handicapped by an earlier order issued by Dr Kidero for an independent review of its design, which is almost complete.

Although the board had approved the project, its construction may not start because the board will need to approve a number of available financing options.

When complete, water supply in the city will increase by 50,000 cubic metres, according to approvals by the board.

A key sewer reticulation project in Roysambu has been approved but cannot take off.

It is believed the Sh4.4 billion project, which was to be undertaken by Athi Water and Service Board, is being blocked by Nairobi Water company due to vested interests.

If not built in time, there are fears that estates such as Roysambu, Zimmerman, Clayworks, Kasarani and Mwiki, could soon have raw sewerage flowing in the open because of lack of capacity to handle the sewer.


“There will be grave environmental effects if the sewer project doesn’t take off very soon,” confirmed Mr Gichuki on Friday.

The imminent water shortage will only worsen the 200,000 cubic metres shortfall the city is currently experiencing.

“We are producing 540,000 cubic metres against a demand of 740,000 cubic metres.

This is despite us operating on a 105 per cent capacity,” said Mr Gichuki.

There are other smaller but crucial water projects approved but cannot proceed.

They include the Rabai Road sewer, Dandora sewerage and securing of several sewerage zones that are targeted by grabbers such as Kariobangi, Ruai, Kahawa West and Kikuyu.

Mr Gichuki confirmed the projects had been approved and will soon stall unless there is a board in place.

“We will need approvals on financing either internally or externally. There are things that won’t just move beyond what the management is mandated to do,” said Mr Gichuki.

The board intrigues began when former board chairman Peter Kuguru challenged his ouster and the eventual constitution of the current board. The current case was filed by activist Okiya Omtatah who has faulted appointment of the board by Dr Kidero.

The Kidero board members who are now under siege are Raphael Nzomo, Maria Namuye, Mercy Mutua, Moses Mooke and Odero Ojanga. Others are Erastus Omolo, Timothy Muriuki, Lillian Ndegwa, Mwangi Gathenya and Prof Joseph Kimura.


Wealthy county’s progress hampered by water woes

It is located on the Great Rift Valley and it is named after Enkare Narok, the river flowing through Narok town. It has an area of 17,944 square kilometres and has a population of 850,920. It borders six other counties: Nakuru to the North, Bomet, Nyamira and Kisii to the North West, Kajiado to the East and Migori to the West.

The main inhabitants of Narok County are from Maasai, although there are a few Kipsigis and Kikuyu residents. The Maasai Mara National Park, which is home to the Great Wildebeest Migration, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World” is also found here.

The county raises more than Sh3 billion from gate fees and related levies. The county has six constituencies; Kilgoris, Narok North, Narok South, Narok East, Narok West and Emurua Dikirr. Narok town is the county headquarters and the commercial hub.

Other major trading centres include Ololulung’a, Kilgoris, Lolgorian, Narosura, Mulot, Olokurto, Nairegi Enkare and Suswa. Although the towns have great growth potential, they are hampered by poor road network, poor drainage system and haphazard planning that makes it prone to floods.Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 8.44.55 PM

They also suffer from perennial water shortage, frequent power outages forcing investors to shy off. The local National Environment Management Authority (Nema) director Patrick Lekenit says poor planning where no land was set aside for recreational facilities and general expansion of the town is to blame for the problems bedeviling the county.

“All the land including wetlands has been grabbed to give way to unplanned high rise buildings. The water table in the town is high and most buildings do not have proper foundations which is very risky,” he told the People Daily. The county is the biggest producer of wheat and barley in the country.

It also produces maize, potatoes, pyrethrum and the biggest supplier of meat to Nairobi and Nakuru markets. Locals engage in livestock keeping in areas outside the main towns while the migrant communities are engaged in farming and businesses.

Apart from the Maasai Mara University, the county hosts Narok Teachers College, Kenya Institute of Management (KIM), African Inland Church (AIC) Bible College, financial institutions and various hotels. The county also has numerous primary and several secondary schools.

At Lolgorian area, there are huge gold deposits while Mica (silicate minerals) are found in Narosura area and geothermal power in Suswa are yet to be exploited. It is not known how much the county government earns from gold mining in form of cess.

It is also not known if the companies have partnered with the county government to exploit the minerals for the good of the residents. Its vast resources have been more of a curse than blessing to residents. In areas bordering the Mara, residents who play a big role in conserving the jewel are poor with high HIV/Aids prevalence being recorded.

Most of the over 130 lodges and tented camps are doing little for the community. A resident who declined to be named alleged that jobs are given to non locals. The county has in the last five months been embroiled in a leadership tussle pitting Governor Tunai and five legislators led by Senator Stephen ole Ntutu over control of the vast resources.

The Ntutu team that has led a series of public meetings and violent demonstrations to agitate for the removal of the Governor claiming that he cannot account for billions of shillings from Maasai Mara.

The governor, who hails from Siria, a minority Maa clan, has denied the claims, saying they are aimed at distracting his attention from serving residents who are hankering for development they had been denied since independence. “When I took office, people used to do things the old way.

Money from all sources was not being used to ameliorate poverty. They were used to line some few people’s pockets,” says Tunai. Most of those opposed to his leadership including the senator and former Heritage minister William ole Ntimama hail from the populous Purko clan.

They believe he has sidelined them in decision making and appointments in key positions. “My government is all inclusive. All clans and communities are represented. Since taking office, I have initiated many development projects. Those opposed to my leadership want me to do things the old way,” he adds.

The county has high cases of land fraud. Most people are landless because of underhand dealings by owners without knowledge of their families. To tame runaway sale of land, the governor stopped all land transactions until a County Land Control Board is constituted.

Most group ranches are being sub-divided for individual members’ ownership. This has made wildlife migratory corridors in the Mara to shrink as land use continues to change. Tunai’s Deputy Evelyn Aruasa who hails from the Kipsigis community believes that those opposed to the county management hold the short end of the stick, arguing that they have done a lot since they were sworn into office in April 2013.

“Apart from roads, we have expanded infrastructure in schools, hired 11 ambulances and improved and equipped hospitals and clinics with drugs,” she says. She says the local people should be encouraged to construct tourist’s facilities and other eco-tourism ventures.

The town, Lekenit says needs strategic partners to develop infrastructure such as housing, hotels and beautification of towns. The NEMA official avers that the council should adopt an integrated waste management approach adding, that it should promote recycling and re-use of solid waste products.

Narok Water and Sewerage Company Limited (NASCO) managing director Wilson Pere says the ongoing construction of a modern water supply system by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will be completed in April next year. To tame the perennial floods in town, the county has contracted a Chinese firm to expand and improve the existing drainage system.

Narok land disputes threaten water resources

Narok is one of the most endowed counties in the country with immense natural resources and potential. But according to a report prepared by the National Steering Committee on Conflict Management and Peace Building, the ability to get the most out of the resources has been hampered by a long history of conflicts which border on land ownership and rights of use disputes, polarisation by political elite and privileged class and degradation of natural resource bases leading to growing inequality, negative ethnicity and poverty among communities. Hotspots areas on land conflicts include Sakutiek, OlPusimoru, Kibisu areas and Trans Mara.

The problem is said to be aggravated by actions of some government officers who engage in various land allocation malpractices thereby convoluting land transactions that later result in disputes. Ethnic intolerance and mistrust between the Maasais and the Kipsigis where new settlers to Narok county are from the Kalenjin and Kikuyu groups who have bought small parcels of land in the highlands is a major issue.

There has been a history of violent land disputes in Maela, Enosopukia and Narok Town. Resource-based conflicts, especially over scarce pastures and water are also common. The conflicts are exacerbated by availability of illicit guns believed to be from neighbouring countries.

The county has begun witnessing inadequate volume of water resulting in water shortages for pastoralists and agro-pastoralists leading to competition or disputes around this scarce resources. “The river flow volumes on most rivers particularly Mara River has significantly reduced. Some permanent rivers too have become seasonal and are receding upstream,” the report adds.

Narok is also designated as one of the human-wildlife conflict hotspots. The survival of Maasai Mara, and of the ecosystem as a whole, is dependent upon the co-existence of local people with wildlife.

During the 2013 General Election, the Mutanik clan which is the largest in Transmara was unable to agree on a single candidate to contest the senatorship of Narok because of bitter rivalry between two brothers — Julius and Andrew Sunkuli.

This led to bitter contest from other rival clans such as the Uasin Gishu, Keekonyokie, Purko and other ethnic groups in the county. Security-related conflicts pose a major challenge on the border in Transmara West/Kuria East, Mashuru, Lemek, Ol Posimoru, Narok-Molo and Suswa boarders.

This has compromised security situation in the county since the cattle raids are usually violent. In order to avoid escalating tension and outbreak of violence, the report says it is important that the County gives attention to the grassroots and power distribution among various stakeholders.

The County Assembly and County Executive Committee should also work in collaboration and partnership with National Land Commission (NLC) to create dialogue platforms that have the objective of finding a solution to the ever unending land disputes in Narok County particularly group ranch conflicts and related historical land injustices.

The County Assembly and Narok leadership should come up with better revenue sharing arrangements between the county government and the communities so that the communities appreciate Maasai Mara as an important resource whose benefits trickle down to the local people through improved investments in education, health, income generating activities and even roads.

This will avoid constant demonstrations that have been witnessed in the recent past over Mara. Due to degrading land as result of land tenure system in place, the county Government can pass legislative clauses on land transaction and management that protect the seller but also that demand conservation measures to be adopted.



Mandera County tenders for 30 boreholes

To deal with the current drought situation, the county government of Manders is tracking availability of water in 70 centres including in schools and dispensaries in addition to repairing and maintaining boreholes to curb water shortage effects.

The county government has two rapid response teams: one based in Elwak sub-county and in Mandera town. This financial year, the county tendered for drilling and equipping more than 30 boreholes and rehabilitating 20 water supplies.

 Residents of Arabia town in  Mandera  get water from a bowser.

The governor Ali Roba handed over 1,053 metric tonnes of food stuffs including beans, rice and vegetable oil saying it was unfortunate that residents have to rely on relief food as he flagged off a convoy of trucks carrying the food to different parts of the county.

Roba reiterated the need to beef up security to attract investors. Mandera region has been bedevilled by insecurity from al-Shabaab terror group and inter-clan clashes.


The County has a population of 1,025,756 based on the disputed census of 2009. The root cause of the conflicts between the various clans in Mandera is how grazing boundaries were marked during colonial times. The Garre say the Murrule and Degodia came to “Garre-land” as “asylum seekers” during the colonial period.

Theysay the Murrulle, who were the first to arrive, were “given” grazing rights in the area between Lafey in the south up to Sala in the north along the River Dawa and along the Kenya-Somali border. The Degodia were, on the other hand, “given” a migratory corridor from Ethiopia to Wajir.

This, the Garre say, was to enable the Degodia to maintain their ancestral relationship with those in Wajir and Ethiopia The Degodia were, therefore, “given” a border-crossing point between Garse-Rhamu and then transitory route passing through As-habito and the area between Shimbir Fatuma and Takaba on their way to Wajir.

The Garre, further, allege that these “guest” clans later abused the sanctuary “given to them” by expanding into other Garre exclusive areas like Malkamari, Ruqa, Banisa, Takaba, Wargadud, Elwak and Shimbir.

Water shortage could soon come your way. This is why…

In his book, Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Stability (Island Press), Brian Richter,  chief scientist for water markets at The Nature Conservancy, lie in shifting water management decisions from technocrats to a stakeholder-driven process. Here are his sentiments as recorded on  -COOL GREEN SCIENCE website.

Q: Why don’t people understand how big the water problem is globally? What will it take?  

BRIAN RICHTER: The problem is that water shortages are quite local in nature, so it’s tough to grasp their potential impacts at a national or global scale. And like climate change, water scarcity is a slowly mounting crisis, building out of a gradual rise in water use — so our alarm bells don’t go off until we finally run out of water, and the damage scarcity does to freshwater species and ecosystems (much of which takes place underwater) becomes apparent too late.

But people are starting to understand that water shortages can severely disrupt local and even regional economies. When Texas lost $12 billion statewide in 2011 due to drought and water shortages, its legislature quickly responded with funding for water projects. Similarly, China is now losing nearly $40 billion every year due to water shortages, and China’s State Council is starting to take that seriously. Managing water from a crisis mode, though, seldom produces the most sustainable outcomes.


Q: Most places aren’t yet experiencing water stress, but you say in Chasing Water that many are heading toward the verge — and many already at the verge support large urban populations. If we don’t change the way we manage water, what might scarcity look like in these places over the next decade or two?

RICHTER: Let me paint an ugly but illustrative picture for you with the example of the Colorado River in the western United States.

If dry years persist in that region, or if water demands for cities and farms continue to grow, the water storage reservoirs and the river itself will continue to wither.

Then: When water levels in Lake Mead or Lake Powell drop to a certain point, we will no longer able to generate electricity from those dams. The water shortage will cause a massive electricity shortage.

Some of the biggest electricity users in that region are urban water delivery systems — the Central Arizona Project canal delivering water to Phoenix and Tucson, the California State Water Project delivering water to Los Angeles and San Diego — as well as huge groundwater pumps that irrigate farms. Water and electricity shortages in those states are beginning to force decisions of whether to keep the lights on, keep the grocery store stocked, or keep water flowing from our taps. Those decisions could easily become more common.

This tradeoff scenario isn’t a Hollywood horror movie. It’s a reality that people have faced in Australia, Syria, Kenya, China and many other countries just in the last decade. At least one-quarter of the planet is experiencing water shortages on a regular basis. Water, food, energy and the ecological health of freshwater ecosystems are inextricably linked, and failures in water often cause cascade effects on the other links. We’re going to see these cascades more and more unless we change our water management approaches.


Q: So what’s the first step?

RICHTER: For the Colorado River basin or any other water source that is being over-depleted, the highest priority is to substantially and permanently reduce current levels of consumptive water use.

As I explain in Chasing Water, managing water and managing money well are similar: you can increase your deposits or you can decrease expenditures. But because it can be very difficult or expensive to access more supplies of both money and water, reducing spending makes great sense.


Q: But wait. Aren’t the pressures to override even the best water budgets and allocation plans almost irresistible?

RICHTER: The widespread over-drafting of groundwater aquifers or lakes (which lowers their water levels over time) and drying of rivers should be taken as evidence that our governments are not managing our water accounts in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Local citizens and water users need to be made aware of these water problems, and we need to find ways to empower them with greater access and ability to participate in water planning and decision-making.

In the book I highlight places like Texas, where the water planning dialogue has been opened to local stakeholders. Their 50-year state water plan now calls for one-quarter of their water budget to be met with water conservation, and their legislature just authorized a sizable investment for that purpose.

But I do fear that their water demands are growing too fast to keep under control with water conservation alone, and they may not gain access to additional water supplies quickly enough, threatening to throw their water budgets dangerously out of balance.


Q: Yet you are fierce that “smart” water conservation is the best way for a community to balance its water budget – better than solutions such as desalination, water storage, or even watershed management. Why is that?

RICHTER: Because water conservation — both in cities and on farms — is by far the most cost-effective way to balance a water budget. Reducing demand is usually 3-10x less expensive than water-supply options such as building reservoirs or importing water from distant places. Conserving water also avoids the ecological and social impacts usually associated with efforts to increase supply.

Conserving water at larger scales could have great impact on blunting the risk of water scarcity. And urban and agriculture water needs can be reduced substantially without impacting our quality of life.

Australian cities use half the water cities of the same size in the American West do, for instance. Many farmers — here in the United States, in Australia, and in many other countries such as Israel — have found highly cost-effective ways to reduce water consumption by 20% or more. The Aussies have also shown how state and federal subsidies for improving irrigation efficiencies can be used to get water consumption down to a sustainable level.


Q: What do you mean by “smart” conservation?

RICHTER: Applying the conservation measures that best address the water problem you are trying to solve.

So: if you’re concerned that your local river is drying up because of too much water use, simply having everyone invest in water-efficient plumbing fixtures or practicing water conservation inside their homes may not do much to save the river. Much of the “wasted” water may be going down the household drains and flowing back into the river; simply using less water may not have much net benefit to the river. But reducing the amount of water being applied on lawns and outdoor landscaping— which doesn’t return to the river after use — may really do some good.


Q: But you also list in Chasing Water a number of reasons why the deck is stacked against water conservation — including that it’s easier to build pipelines than to change individual behaviors, and that conservation  sends a message of scarcity that many communities don’t want to advertise.

In addition, agriculture —not urban consumption — accounts for up to 90% of water consumption in most basins. So why are you optimistic communities — especially urban communities — will even bother?

RICHTER: I’ll suggest three reasons: (1) water shortages are spreading and intensifying in many regions of the world, making people more aware of the need to use less; (2) as governments become more comfortable with inviting stakeholders to participate in water planning, those stakeholders will see that conservation is the best deal available and hold their governments accountable for “doing the right thing”; and (3) as water becomes more expensive, people will use less.

As for urbanites, it’s really important that everyone participate in water-conserving activities because we all need to do our share to resolve water problems and protect freshwater ecosystems. But they can also be advocates for urban-ag partnerships to save water. In my book and in many other writings, I make the case that because irrigated agriculture uses such an enormous volume of water, a little bit of improved irrigation efficiency can add up to a very large amount of water savings.

That’s why city dwellers should encourage their water managers to form partnerships or water-saving agreements with farmers that share the same water source. Consumers can also help reduce the volume of water being used in agriculture by choosing foods that require less water to produce, or by wasting less food.


Q: Your vision of the way water management decisions should be made is highly democratic — in large part, you say, because past technocratic schemes failed to include local stakeholders. But how can water planning be democratic in places like China or Yemen that have little or no tradition of democratic institutions or dynamics? And won’t such schemes be outdone by the endemic corruption in a lot of these countries? 

RICHTER: When people run out of water, they revolt. Syria is a case in point. A drought in that country — combined with the government’s inability to manage water well — helped ignite the social unrest that threatens to overthrow the government. Water revolts may not lead to democratic reform or lessened corruption, but the people will demand that water is better managed in the future.

I’m putting my bets on local community leaders and activists everywhere to become the change agents demanding sustainability. But we have to ensure that they are well-informed about the basic fundamentals of water management.


Q: You close the book by looking at the water plan of the Murray-Darling River Basin in Australia, which endured a horrific 12-year-long drought that ended in 2009. What are they doing right in the Murray-Darling? 

RICHTER: The Aussies have put into place some really important water reforms. First, they recognized two decades ago that over-allocation of water was placing both their economies and their freshwater ecosystems at risk. They decided to institute a limit or “cap” on the total volume of consumptive water use in the basin. That cap was lower than the existing levels of use, so they needed to figure out some way to reduce their use, permanently.

Since 2002, the Australian Commonwealth (federal) government has allocated nearly US $14 billion dollars to reduce the volume of water being used on farms, where more than 90% of the water is used. More than two-thirds of this money has been directed into a Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program that helps farmers to install more efficient irrigation technologies like drip irrigation, or reduce water losses through infrastructure improvements such as concrete lining of earthen ditches. This program has been extremely well received, and farmers have lined up to take the government’s help in saving water on their farms.

The remainder of this federal funding support was directed at buying water rights from willing sellers. Some farmers sold their water and got out of farming altogether. But many others switched to growing crops that used less water, thereby freeing up some water for sale.

Now that they are getting close to reducing water use to the cap levels, water trading is proving to be extremely beneficial. Australia has a very well-designed water market that enables those that need more water to access it from those willing to give some up, on a permanent or temporary basis.  Both parties win: some get water, others get a new source of revenue.


Q: “Chasing Water” presents a comprehensive vision of where you think we need to go with water management. It also feels like a manifesto, a summing up for you. What do you want it to accomplish, and with whom?

RICHTER: 25 years of traipsing around the world witnessing bad water management and its horrific consequences could have caused me to throw up my hands in despair. But I have enjoyed the privilege of a good education, the insights gained from observation, and from the mentorship of really smart and visionary individuals. They have instilled in me a lifelong mantra: when you observe something wrong in the world, it is your moral duty to do something about it.

Only a very small fraction of the global population understands how the water cycle works, where their water comes from, or what we can do to prevent water shortages. Yet I have not been able to find educational material about water that is written at a simple, foundational level. Too often, water experts assume too much about their audiences. If this book proves to be useful, I’m going to do everything I can to help spread it around — getting it translated into multiple languages, and subsidizing its purchase by those that cannot afford to buy it.