Construction of Kenyaâ€™s biggest dam is set to start soon along River Tana. The proposed Sh150 billion High Grand Falls Dam will be the single largest undertaking by the government in the water sector and will supply water to the Lamu resort city and port.
The 165 square kilometre dam will also be used to generate between 500MW and 700MW of electricity and help to control flooding in the Tana delta that displaces thousands of people every year.
Its construction will be funded through a public private partnership with firms from the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China and the Export-Import Bank of China providing the finances.
â€œA feasibility study and a detailed design of the High Grand Falls Dam on Tana River is now complete and work will commence any time now,â€ the outgoing permanent secretary in the Ministry of Water, Mr David Stower, told Smart Company during a dam inspection tour in Koibatek District, Baringo County.
The proposed dam will hold over 5.6 billion cubic metres of water and will border three counties â€” Tharaka Nithi, Kitui, and Tana.
â€œApart from generation of electricity, the massive water in the dam will be used to irrigate more than 200,000 acres of land. This will go a long way in boosting food production in the country,â€ Mr Stower said.
The High Grand Falls Dam is part of the Sh1.5 trillionÂ Lamu Port and Lamu Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (Lapsset), which was officially launched in March last year at the Lamu Port by then President Mwai Kibaki at a ceremony attended by the President of the Republic of South Sudan, Mr Salva Kiir, and former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has since died.
â€œWe want it as a critical success factor of the Lapsset project,â€ said the Lapsset Corridor Development Authority chief executive, Mr Silvester Kasuku.
Previously undertaken by the Ministry of Regional Development, the project will now shift to the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources headed by Prof Judy Wakhungu.
â€œThe benefit to the region is enormous,â€ said Mr Carey Orege, the acting principal secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. â€œFirst, it is going to form a small lake, introducing fishing to the communities around it, and tourism.â€
According to Mr Orege, the National Treasury has forwarded the financing request to the Chinese Government, which has forwarded the proposal to the China Exim Bank.
All terms, apart from two technical issues, have been agreed. Negotiations on these are ongoing. The damâ€™s construction will begin at Marimanti in Tharaka Nithi, which will act as the coordination and site office. Tseukuru in Kitui County will form the coordination and site office for the resettlement programme.
The biggest beneficiaries in terms of transport will be the residents of Kibwezi, whose journey to Isiolo will be reduced by more than 100 kilometres.
Isiolo is planned to become a resort city, housing an oil refinery, railway station, and road connecting Kenya to Ethiopia and South Sudan. Overall, the bridge will save the economy at least Sh23.4 billion.
The saving comes as result of the dam eliminating the need to build a new bridge across the Tana River and also shortening the travel distance, currently by road, to the two counties.
Construction is expected to take six years, with at least 4,500 households affected. Already, the government has completed the resettlement plan, which will see 3,000 households relocated.
â€œWhile construction of the dam is the financierâ€™s responsibility, resettlement will be the governmentâ€™s duty. As a ministry, we have done our financial request to the Treasury,â€ said Mr Orege.
Each of the households is expected to get at least a two-bedroom permanent house with land matching what they had before resettlement. The ministry says the aim is to leave them better off than they were before relocation.
Schools, shopping centres, health centres, and other infrastructure will also be constructed.
â€œThe Lamu resort city will benefit a lot from this project,â€ he said. â€œThe project will not only provide fresh water to the city and port, but it will also be a major food supply investment.â€
To reduce water scarcity in Kenya, the government plans to construct 28 dams across the country.
The PS said the government has spent Sh13 billion in the first phase of its intended projects, which are spread across the country.
Other dams earmarked for construction include Sio Dam in West Pokot, Hare Dam in Koru, Nyando, Badasa Dam in Marsabit, which will have a holding capacity of 5 million cubic metres of water, and Mwache Dam in Kwale County.
â€œWeâ€™re now upbeat and hope to mobilise more funds to make sure that Kenya will never again have scarcity of this precious commodity,â€ added Mr Stower.
Top on the agenda is the Twake Dam in MakueniÂ County, which will be the main source of water for the proposed Konza City on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Already, three of the dams â€” Chemususu in Koibatek District, Maruba in Machakos with a holding capacity of 2.5 million cubic metres of water, and Kiserian, which can hold 1.2 million cubic metres of water â€” are in place.
According to Article 43 (d) of the 2010 Constitution, provision of water is a basic right. The government is stepping up efforts to meet citizensâ€™ demands for clean water.