Baruku River, the Lifeline of Lake Elementainta on Decline

The state of many a river in Nakuru County is wanting. Whereas in the past the rivers were perennial, today many are seasonal or simply abstract channels in a Martian landscape. Human interference coupled by rapacious greed, more than weather change, is highly to blame as degradation of forest cover has led to this scenario where even natural springs have dried up. To say some rivers in Nakuru County are simply a memory of the past is to be economical with the truth.

  Like parts of the Mau Forest complex that disappeared, similar story observed in Dundori Forest, which straddles parts of Nakuru and Nyandarua counties, though forest reclamation efforts has seen considerable areas enveloped in tree cover, with the open spaces given out to farmers, such that, whenever there’s a prolonged rainy spell, fertilizer rich soils leaches into the streams and downward to water pans that it is not surprising to see the whole river stretch and dams covered in aquatic plants of every shade.

  One perennial river, which seems to be writing its sad obituary, is Baruku River (section of it pictured above). Tracing its source from marshy springs of Dundori and Nyandarua, it snakes to Lake Elementainta where it discharges its dirty, brownish waters.

  From its sources, the water is usually clear. But as it meanders through heavily settled areas, like Dundori township, and farmlands where its banks have been cultivated, it picks all manners of pollution along the way. It doesn’t help matters to see farmers washing knapsack sprayers along sections of its route, for chemical residues from the sprayers eventually finds the way to the food chain though use of untreated water for domestic purposes.

  The colonial government must have seen the potential of Baruku River, no wonder a humongous metal pipe was laid in 1914 to pipe its water to Lanet military barracks. Of concern is when droplets of untreated water may find their way to general supply lines with outbreak of waterborne diseases felling the gallant soldiers at a rate only enviable in a battlefront. But with the river passing at front or back doors of several primary and secondary schools along its route, and where the piped and untreated water is drawn from the same, it’s simply a matter of time before a health bomb explodes.
Pillar supporting water pipe that was erected in 1914

  Njoroge Nga’ng’a, the CEO of Ithaga FM which broadcasts from Nakuru town, has nostalgia of the river in its heydays. “It was swift flowing during rainy days. It carried large water volumes compared to what is flowing today,” he says.

  Nga’ng’a, who was then living in Ndege village in Lanet, recalls the river as the only source of water for many a home. Back then, you could see the sandy bottom of the river depending on the season, not today where water is anything but greenish with detectable odour at times.

  “We used to swim in it while growing up. The water then was clear such that any wayfarer could drink it without worrying over health. But today, the river and its waters are a contrast of the past,” he says.

  James Muthui, a resident in Karushuwa close to the river, says at its full capacity, especially during the 1990s, it was suicidal to try to wade across it. “Three school children belonging to one family perished attempting to wade across while holding hands. It was sad, as back then, even now, there are makeshift wood bridges along the course that can be swept away when the river rages and the youngsters had underestimated the waters strength,” he says.

  He says during peak rainy days, the river’s water used to roar as it cascaded downstream. The roar could be heard from a distance off, not today when a muted roar is all can be heard, like in natural and manmade colonial era miniature waterfalls where soapy water boils like in a cauldron.

  His worry is if the water level goes down in coming years, Baruku will be remembered as a river that left a gully where water once flowed for millennia.

  A real estate company, with financial clout, has build residential units close to a section of the river’s course, and when you look at their glossy brochures offering units for sale, there’s catch of a year round river flowing close as part of a sales pitch. There’s no telling what kind of effluent or other garbage will end up in the river seeing the quick rate high rise residential apartments are coming up close by, giving the place the general outlook of a concrete jungle with the river cutting across.

  A year back, members of Greenbelt Movement, an initiative started by the late Nobel laureate, Wangari Mathai, joined by military personnel from Lanet barracks, engaged in a cleanup of the river at Dundori township and the garbage retrieved would have filled a dozen or so garbage trucks.

  But in a country where action taken to save a situation is anything sort of a kneejerk reaction, it is not until the river flows to a trickle or dries up completely that many will wake up and make a din calling for salvaging of an already sad situation!


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