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Of Riparian Reserve

In the wake of the demolitions in Nairobi, the word “riparian” has created concern and anxiety for owners and occupiers of properties adjacent to water bodies.

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) published a notice stating that a riparian reserve is set at a minimum width of 6 metres and a maximum width of 30 metres from the high-water mark of a river as per the Environmental Management and Coordination (Wetlands, Riverbanks, Lakeshores and Seashores) Management Regulations, 2009.

The National Environment Tribunal in the year 2006 took the view, in a case before it, that the riparian reserve is to be measured from the centre line of the river as, according to the Tribunal, this is the point used in ascertaining land boundaries.

Why protect the riparian reserve?

Riparian reserves are important to ensure the slowing down of the flow of water and reduction of soil erosion and flood damage. The need for enhanced protection and reclamation of the riparian reserves within Nairobi was a consequence of abnormal flooding within city commercial and residential areas caused by structures improperly being erected on the water course and within the riparian reserves.

What can I do on riparian land?

Owners of land within riparian reserves are permitted to carry out activities that promote the protection of riparian reserves, for instance cultivation of trees which would also slow the flow of water in the event of heavy downpour.

Do I have (or can I acquire) rights over riparian land?

The Government’s right over public land, of which riparian reserves forms a part, supersedes that of private owners’ rights over land and attempts to enforce a claim against the Government are unlikely to succeed.

How can I find out if my land is within riparian reserve?

The identification and designation of riparian reserve is a function to be undertaken by the National Environment Management Authority, (NEMA), in conjunction with Survey of Kenya. For properties within Nairobi, the Nairobi Regeneration Task Force, a presidential initiative programme drawing an inter-ministerial and multisectoral team of experts also has information on land that is within riparian reserve.

In order to establish whether your property is within the riparian reserve, you will need to make enquiries with these agencies as the information has not been publicized.

What do you do now?

Steps to be taken

Engaging with NEMA officers to establish whether or not the land in question is riparian land;
contracting a licensed surveyor to confirm the property boundaries; and
cross checking with maps that show the history of the property considering seasonal rivers or diverted streams will be useful in determining the status of the property.

It is important to seek legal advice as to whether or not land adjacent to any water body has been or may be designated as falling within the riparian reserve.