Pollution kills the allure of once treasured lake

The carcass of a buffalo at the shores of Lake Nakuru. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]
A pair of white pelicans glide gracefully by the shores of Lake Nakuru. At a distant, a fish eagle swoops before landing on a dry stump sticking out of the waters.

It is a beautiful sight to behold, but not as glorious as when thousands of flamingos graced the now pollutedlake.

Indeed, the specks of pink that once carpeted the lake’s shores drawing bird watchers and tourists are no more. 

Lake Nakuru, until the disappearance of flamingos, placed Lake Nakuru National Park on the global map.

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It became a haven, and boasted one of the most visited premium parks, generating over Sh1 billion in annual revenue collection. The park in 2015, popped among top-rated travel sites, ranking it the second most colourful lake in the world after Christmas Island in Australia.

“But flamingos are all gone. We are only left with memories. The pressures that have been exerted into this lake are massive, resulting to migration of Nakuru’s iconic species,” said James Wakibia, a resident conservationist. 

Ambitious conservation

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According to a 2008 water bird census, the lakehosted an estimated 1.3 million flamingos. Another census conducted this February shows that flamingo population in the lake now stands at 6,000 birds. Last year, revenue collections from the park stood at Sh480 million, barely half of what it collected a decade ago.

But even as Lake Nakuru enjoyed its serenity, ambitious conservation groups had long sensed the dangers.

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Institutions too, realised that the future was bleak and formed the River Njoro Rehabilitation plan, an ambitious project to conserve the lake’s main tributary that transverses Mau forest, passing through residential areas and institutions and finally emptying into the lake.

The rehabilitation of the river was entrusted to Prof Charles M’erimba, a don from Egerton University and was to be implemented by various stakeholders including the Kenya Forest Service, Egerton University, Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS); Nakuru and Narok counties.

“We came up with this plan with a sole purpose to save Lake Nakuru. The mission was to bring stakeholders on board to help rehabilitate the river that is key to survival of the lake,” Prof M’erimba said.

Rehabilitation of the river according to the plan, would start from Entiyani area in Narok, through to LakeNakuru.

The cost of rehabilitating the river from Ngata area through to Lake Nakuru according to Prof M’erimba was estimated to be high because of sand-harvesting activities along the areas, which had left a number of quarries open.

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“The current challenges facing Lake Nakuru is what we had projected in 2011 when we came up with the report. Siltation is a major concern, something also linked to swelling of the lake. There is so much soil being swept downstream, which increases the volume of the lake basin, displacing water,” M’erimba said.

Stakeholders had projected that if threats were not addressed, Njoro River was likely to dry up and LakeNakuru would be lost due to siltation. Stakeholders had also projected that there would be loss of aquatic biodiversity, leading to migration of some species. The ambitious plan, however, was only partly implemented by a few stakeholders, namely Egerton University and KALRO.

Egerton University, the don says, has spent over Sh40 million in rehabilitation of the 20-kilometre stretch from proceeds that have been raised through the yearly Mau-Egerton cross country marathon. Rehabilitation of the stretch, has increased tree cover from the initial 5 per cent to close to 60 per cent.

“Little has been done in Logoman and lower side of the river from Ngata.

The county government is yet to play its role in rehabilitation,” he said.

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As this happens, Nakuru County Director for Environment Kiogoora Muriithi said solid waste management remains a key threat to the lake.

“This has been made worse by the fact that the lake is situated on the lower side from settlement areas and has also borne the brunt of upstream activities.

The level of pollution is too much for the county to handle alone. KWS also needs to step up,” Kiogoora said.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui also admitted that there was a challenge in managing sewerage mixing with storm water and finding its way into the lake.

“The completion of a Sh3.5 billion facility from the German Development Bank will separate sewage from storm water and solve this challenge,” said Kinyanjui.

FlamingoNet, a flamingo conservation group said a combination of factors likely pushed the birds away. 

The group’s CEO and coordinator of Integrated LakeBasin Management Project Jack Raini attributed the flight of birds to destruction of Mau forest as well as flow of industrial waste into the delicate ecosystem. Growth of algae, which is food to flamingos is thus hampered.

“Traces of about 10 heavy metals have been found in the lake. Some metals only need to be in small amounts to change the entire PH of the lake,” said Raini.

Essential infrastructure

Decreasing visitor numbers have prompted KWS to launch a Rapid Results Initiative to turn around fortunes of the park in a record 100 days.

Lake Nakuru Senior Warden Catherine Wambani said there has been fluctuating water levels.

“There has been decline in flamingo numbers, a situation that often corresponds with increasing water levels.

The park too, has had challenges of managing solid waste that finds its way into the park, especially during the rainy season,” said Wambani.

KWS Director General John Waweru, while launching the RRI, said the measures they were taking include upgrading infrastructure within the park and demolishing submerged structures.

Waweru said KWS will undertake a spatial plan for the infrastructure that will see replacement and upgrading of essential park infrastructure.

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KWSJohn WaweruPollutionLake Nakuru