Kighombo Dam cries out for help as dilapidation sets in
Tucked beneath the scenic in Mwatate sub-county in Taita-Taveta County is Kighombo Dam; one of the oldest and most iconic dams in Kenya.
Constructed in 1912, the dam is located on a 5-acre piece of land donated to East Africa Railway Corporation (EARC) by a local wealthy farmer. Local oral historians say the dam was built by EARC to primarily provide water for steam engines used by the trains plying across the region.
But the glamour is no more.
The once massive dam is drying up. Decades of neglect, climate change and devastation of water sources have rendered the once magnificent brick-and-concrete structure a bare shell.
Fred Mwazina, former chief of Rong’e location where the dam is located, terms the death of the dam as the greatest tragedy to befall the region.
Mwazina, whose grandfather donated the 5-acre land for the project, said that apart from providing water for the steam engine, the dam was also giving local residents’ water for irrigation and domestic consumption.
“All the good things the dam was known for are no more. We are looking at the end of Kighombo as we all knew it,” said the ex-chief.
Thousands of residents of Kulele, Ikanga, Mkwachunyi and Kighombo villages have been using the dam since 1970’s. The dam has a capacity of holding over 30 million cubic liters of water when full.
In the 50’s, the dam was so vital to the region that water its used to serve Voi town with other pipes serving Bachuma area and Mackinon shopping center using a 71km long pipe.
The EARC would later transfer the ownership and management of Kighombo Dam to National Water Corporation in 1992. By then, the dam had started showing signs of tear and wear with the major pipes feeding it with water were getting constantly clogged by mud from the mountains. Being a fresh-water dam, the facility was designed in such a way that no surface run-off would get into it.
Mwazina said the engineers had decided to use the dam as a reservoir for water that was treated at a nearby plant at Mwamsha intake in Rong’e. The dam was permanently being fed by cast-iron pipes that got water from fresh-water streams in Mbololo and Mwambirwa forests.
In a report by East Africa Wildlife Society in the year 2000, it was noted that there was urgent need to restore the dam in its original state. The report noted that massive siltation, cracks, reduction in water from the sources, pipe blockages from rock fall and overgrown vegetation posed a real threat to the continued existence of Kighombo Dam.
Mwazina said recommendations in the report were never implemented. Overtime, the dam descended into a state of dilapidation as all pipes were vandalized. The once pristine fence also fell apart and water levels reduced so drastically that the facility only harvests rain water in rainy season for use by domestic animals.
The County Executive Committee Member for Water, Gasper Kabaka said the county was seeking a donor to fund the rehabilitation of the dam, adding that the total estimates needed for the works at Sh 28 million which was unavailable, noting that the county was working closely with national government to find a donor for the project.
He also revealed that the proposed Mzima 2 water project would serve the dam.
“We will get a pipe to supply the dam with water but after the rehabilitation exercise is over,” he said.
After its restoration, the dam is expected to serve over a thousand homesteads in six villages surrounding it. There are also efforts to rehabilitate Mbololo and Mwambirwa forest as part of county and Kenya Forest Services (KFS) initiative to restore forest cover and protect the streams.
Linet Mombo, a farmer in Ikanga, said water shortage had been a constant challenge since Kighombo dam dried up, noting that with the proposed rehabilitation will save residents the pains of going for water kilometers away.
“We are waiting for this project and hope it will be a success. It will solve all our water problems,” she said.
By Wagema Mwangi/Fatuma Jumeah