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County, Tata Chemicals in Fresh Water Wars Turn Nasty

When Governor Joseph Lenku raided Tata Chemicals Magadi offices.

A bitter feud has erupted between Kajiado County Government and Tata Chemicals Magadi Ltd over payment of freshwater from a source in the region.

The county and the soda ash miner, who have been at loggerheads over long-standing unpaid land rates are now embroiled in a battle over Nkurruman freshwater source from where the company draws all its water for industrial use.

Although the company is licensed by the Water Resources Authority for extraction of water from the natural source, the county wants the company to pay for the millions of litres of water distributed to the company for its commercials operations.

The county’s department of water wants to install a bulk water meter at the company to regulate its supply and ensure the freshwater is not denied the local community.

On April 16, 2019, Kajiado Water and Irrigation CEC Member, Michael Semera wrote to the company over the intention of putting up the meter to regulate the supply of water from Nkurruman source.

The letter further says, “In the meantime, you are required to pay a fixed monthly charge of Sh1million for water that it supplied to the company with immediate effect.”

In a rejoinder, Tata Chemicals Magadi Ltd’s Executive Director, Harish Nair, informed the county government that it had no mandate to levy any water fees because they were already remitting payments to WRMA as per their water extraction permit.

Nair says the company can only pay for water to WRMA in compliance with the permit issued by the water body.

On July 5, WRMA Chief Executive Officer Mohammed Shurie waded into the water saga and said only WRMA had the mandate to impose fees for water extracted from any water resource.

He further said, “Water and sewerage service provision is a county government function. In this regard, tariffs for water and sewerage services provision are approved by the Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB).

In his letter, Shurie fell short of admitting that if the county government was to levy any water tariffs for Nkurruman water, then the right body to consult was WASREB, and not WRMA.

On Friday, Governor Joseph Ole Lenku accused the company and WRMA of a conspiracy to deny the county government water revenue at a time every resident was paying their water.

“We are talking of the water distributed to the company for commercial and industrial use. Every resident is paying for water. We cannot have a commercial company that has a whole water resource for their exclusive use and the community around it cannot use it because it is being held up by the multi-national,” said Lenku.

The Governor averred the community is in dire need of the water resource and the permit by WRMA grossly disadvantages the local residents as the county government would want to invest in a more community-friendly distribution network.

“No private enterprise will hold Kajiado residents at ransom especially by denying them water,” said the governor in a telephone interview.

The company has asked the county government to keep off its operations in accordance with a court order that ruled an arbitration team be formed to resolve their differences.

On May 3, Mining and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary John Munyes was ordered by the High Court in Kajiado to form an arbitration committee to resolve the land rates impasse but two and a half months later, he is yet to form one.

On Saturday the Water CEC Semera said the water dispute was not part of the case between the County and the soda ash multi-national and therefore the matter is not prohibited by the order issued by Justice Reuben Nyakundi in May.

“The county is ready for the arbitration team when it is formed. It has nothing to do with the water matter we have with the company. This is a different matter,” said Semera.

Semera says water distribution is the mandate of water service providers and insisted in this case, Magadi area is under the jurisdiction of Oloolaiser Water and Sewerage Company.

Concerns have also been raised over the 50 cents per 1,000 litres of water that the company pays to WRMA which is regarded as a colonial rate.

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