Data thirst is hurting Tana River basin
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28 October 2019 Author :   Karitu Njagi

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (PAMACC News) - Scientists are struggling to figure out the level of environmental pressure facing the Tana river basin due to lack of reliable data.

And such data bankruptcy is affecting hydroelectric power generation in Kenya, Willis Ochieng’, the energy and chief planner at the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KENGEN), said during the ongoing African Climate Risks meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

According to Ochieng’, most of the data about the Tana river basin is either untimely or unreliable. For instance, he said, this year’s flood forecasting which can help plan how to avoid water spillage has not been done.

“We use the forecasts for planning and operation to ensure water use is sustainable. The seasonal forecasts helps us in managing the dams. This way we are able to project the amount of energy we can generate during a particular season,” said Ochieng’.

For instance, in April 2018, the abrupt heavy rains resulted in water rising to a level of around 1.7 meters in the dams within 24 hours. Such a surge can affect the hydro power plant because it is the only unit that can manage system fluctuations.     

“That was too much than what our machines could take. Luckily we had alerts from Kenya Meteorological Department warning there would be heavy rains. We used the forecasts to adjust to the situation. In the absence of this information we would only have waited to see what is happening,” said Ochieng’.

Zachary Atheru, programme officer at the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Center (ICPAC) acknowledged that Kenya, and other African countries are facing a weather data crisis.

This is because most hydrological stations installed in the region, including in the Tana river basin, have flunked.

Also, said Atheru, most countries that have installed automatic weather stations are not reporting the data collected through them.

“In the IGAD region hydrological data is considered as a security asset. For security reasons, most water agencies do not share this data,” said Atheru, adding that the global framework for climate services requires countries to collect and share as much weather data as possible.

Ali Ramtu, the senior acting director in charge of aeronautical and meteorological services at the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) acknowledged that most weather observation stations, including those in the Tana river basin, have closed down.

He accused the government of neglecting investment in weather forecasting, adding that the sector does not receive funding from the government.

“We used to have a lot of observational stations but they have died because most of them were on voluntary. Even if we get any funding from donors we are not supposed to use it at the county level but submit it to the Treasury. In most cases it does not come back to us,” said Ramtu.

Masinga dam which is the upper reservoir in the Tana river basin has a capacity of 1.56 billion cubic meters, while Kiambere dam in the lower reservoir can store about 585 milion cubic meters of water.

“KENGEN may not reach everywhere. We may not just go everywhere for the purpose of data collection. This is why we need partnerships with other institutions,” said Ochieng’.

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