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Solai Dam built illegally, Chelugui and WRMA tell Senators

This emerged as the House select team received evidence from Water Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui who produced permits showing that owners were licensed to operate a weir in May 2004 and then subsequently expanded it to the current size/FILE

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 3 – The ad-hoc Senate team inquiring into the Solai Dam tragedy has learnt that the 200,000 cubic meters capacity facility was constructed illegally.

This emerged as the House select team received evidence from Water Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui who produced permits showing that owners were licensed to operate a weir in May 2004 and then subsequently expanded it to the current size.

Chelugui produced satellite photographs from Google maps as proof to support records in the Ministry and Water Resources Management Authority that show there is no dam initially on the farm in Solai.

One of the photographs taken in 2004 shows clearly there is no dam, but a weir. However, in progressive photos of 2009 and 2011 the size of the weir is seen expanding to the extent that the stream is in the middle of the ‘dam’.

A weir is an impervious barrier constructed across a river to raise the water level on the upstream side. The water is raised up to the required height and the water then flows over the weir.

Meanwhile, a dam is defined as a high impervious barrier constructed across a river valley to form a deep storage reservoir. The surplus water is not allowed to flow over the dam, but it flows through the spillways provided at some level built into the dam.

It is at this point that Senators led by the Committee chairman Mutula Kilonzo Jnr (Makueni) wanted WRMA acting Chief Executive Officer Mohammed Shurie to explain how the owners got to operate the facility as a dam while documentation produced to the committee clearly showed that they had applied to divert waters from Watkins Stream for general irrigation of 20 hectares of roses.

“The application said they wanted a put up a diversion of 2.5 meters high but when I look at this picture, it looks like the river is captured, there is no diversion but it is enclosed into the dam,” Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika observed.

“In 2004, there was no dam. It was a river flowing naturally, but the farm was there!” the CS replied.

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“What we are showing in this picture is when the permit was given; it was for a weir not a dam. In fact, what we were interested in right now is whether there was a dam or not, but there was no dam,” the WRMA chief executive stated.

“So, what were you renewing?” Senator Johnson Sakaja interjected, “because you have said in this picture was a naturally flowing stream in 2004, but what they have sort in March 13, 2004 is a renewal permit.”

“The weir was there before 2004, and then he asked to be permitted to obstruct around 454.55 cubic meters/day later in 2009, he asked for an increment of 50.45 cubic meters/day for domestic use from normal flow and 2045.45 cubic meters/day for commercial irrigation from flood flow. But he was not to stop the flow of the stream,” Shurie applied.

“If you go down you realise this is no longer a weir, this is a dam, yet there is no application for a dam. Let’s be clear Waziri, your pictures don’t show there was maybe a dam, it shows there is a dam, that means that between 2009 and 2013, your officers on the ground were turning a blind eye on a dam that is not licensed, posed Senator Kilonzo Jnr.

“There was no application for a dam, what we have ourselves and what we have been renewing all along is a weir and the only time he changed the amount of water is 2009,” the CEO said.

“So, they have been applying for a weir 2.5 metres high, but the photos are showing us a dam, that is in 2009?” Sakaja posed, as Senator Fatuma Dullo interjected, “in all these transactions why is it that you authorizing a weir when there is a dam on site. Where were your officers to go and inspect what is on the ground?”

The CS owned up and told the committee that WARMA had never inspected the dam since its construction in 2005.

“Mr Chair, the officers on the ground and WRMA, at that time, they relied more on voluntary information from the owner. But also note the limitation to access has led these officers to issue out permits that are not (in line to what is on the ground),” he said claiming that his officers are often denied access to highly secured farms or ranches which host dams.

The CS and Shurie admitted that gaps in the monitoring and inspection of operations allowed the owners to expand at the installation maybe a contributing factor to the collapse of the dam.

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They claimed that the law gives dam owners unchecked powers to conduct annual safety checks and then provide the ground and inspection reports to the regulator which was not done.

Senator Sakaja demanded that WRA produce all the permits it issued to the Nakuru based dam owner and it be subjected to forensic analysis to establish if they had been falsified.

The Senate team and a team led by the Water Cabinet are expected to tour the dam on Friday for a familiarization and fact-finding tour.

Chelugui said he had set appointed a taskforce which shall also access the loss of life, damage to property, infrastructure and ecosystem.

“The taskforce shall thoroughly and critically review the following documents; design and construction documents related to the project including any geotechnical investigations, geological reports, hydrological assessment reports, drawings, specifications, construction reports and photographs; Records of approvals by Water Resources Management Authority and National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA); Records of maintenance and surveillance monitoring activities. Written reports, photographs, videos and other documentations of the May 9th accident,” he said as he outlined the taskforce’s terms of reference.

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