River Health Assessment (RHA) is a scientific way of assessing the cleanliness of water to ensure effective environmental water management.
River Mara Water Resources Users Association (WRUA) chair Mr. Paul Rono says the assessment helps in identifying water bodies with poor health and provides possible solutions to maintain the quality and quantity of the river.
“The assessment checks on the physical, biological and chemical composition of a river to determine the level of pollution in the river,” he said during an interview with KNA Monday.
A survey at the upper parts of river Mara shows that the river is little disturbed when flowing from its source, South Western Mau, but is polluted as it flows downstream across the Mara Game Reserve and Serengeti Park in Tanzania before draining into Lake Victoria.
Rono said that because of the importance of the river, the community living along the river basin, through the support of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Kenya) was trained on how to conserve the environment to minimize pollution at the river.
“We were trained on how to check the health of the water in a bid to in conserving the river. When there is too much pollution in the river, the water levels go down and the speed of the water decreases,” said Rono.
The WRUA chair revealed that the community uses a simple tool called ‘meniscus tool’ to determine water clarity and community perception.
“When conducting this exercise, we visit the river in the morning before it is disturbed and if we find insects that live in freshwater like desert beetle, stone fly and water strider, this is an indication that the river is clean,” he explains.
The presence of a high number of heartworms indicates that the water is dirty, hence the need to sensitize the community living on the upper land to avoid pollution.
“Heartworms survive well in dirty, polluted water. A big score of the worms shows a great extent of pollution in the river,” he noted.
Rono says they have established eight different points of sampling River Mara, saying study shows that the river is more polluted on the lower parts than the upper parts.
“We carry out the assessment at least once in a month, once we get to know the status of the water, we are now informed on how to sensitize the communities living along the river,” he adds.
However, he acknowledges that River Mara has not been stable saying the level of cleanliness varies depending on seasons.
During the rainy season, the presence of heartworms that survive in dirty water is too high indicating that the water is too dirty.
“The more the mud in the water, the lesser the water volume, while other activities like cleaning clothes in the river and poor farming practices, cutting down trees can also cause water pollution,” he explains.
Rono lamented that the great Mara River continues to face numerous threats occasioned by unsustainable human activities such as excessive water abstraction, pollution by raw effluent from hotels and lodges at the game reserve, high sediment load from soil erosion and solid waste dumping.
On his part, WRUA chairman Charles Kursha says the local communities have a great role to play in maintaining a healthy river.
Kursha says involving the local communities on river health assessment accords them with an opportunity to come up with practical solutions to mitigate river pollution.
“The community should feel part of the river so that they can easily adapt to alternative methods of keeping the quality and quantity of the water,” he says.
Kursha advised county governments to set aside ‘car wash’ places saying many vehicle owners opt to clean their vehicles inside a river, which pollutes the water.
At the same time, he disclosed that they will involve learning institutions in the exercise so that the young learners can embrace the importance of conserving a river at their tender age.
“The government should incorporate RHA in the early childhood education so that the learners can grow up appreciating the importance of a clean river,” he added.
By Ann Salaton