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Anxiety as lakes swell and spill over to farms

By Caroline Chebet | February 22nd 2020

Buildings at the Lake Nakuru National Park that have been submerged by the rising water level. INSET: Donald Shikuku at a section of his farm that has been flooded in Mwariki estate. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Unprecedented rise in water levels in Rift Valley lakes has puzzled residents and authorities.

The phenomenon is replicated across Lakes Baringo, Bogoria, Nakuru, Elementaita, Naivasha, Oloiden and Magadi. Lakes Nakuru and Bogoria, have swelled and spilled to the neighbouring farms as authorities grapple with mitigation measures. 

Fishing in Lake Naivasha has been disrupted after Kamere Beach was completely submerged.

The water bodies have exceeded the 2013 and 2016 levels, which were deemed the highest after Lakes Naivasha and Oloiden swelled beyond boundaries to merge.

The phenomenon could threaten tourism in Rift Valley which has been subject to various studies to address the ecology of the lakes.

“The last time such phenomenon happened that led to flooding of the villages bordering the lake was in 1985 but it only lasted three months. Even the 2013 swelling of the lakes did not get to the current state which we are currently experiencing. This is even getting worse,” Michael Ndungu said. More than 10 acres in Mwariki bordering Lake Nakuru are partially flooded with water seeping from the ground.

“We think that this is also part of destruction of riparian areas especially along the rivers feeding Lake Nakuru. This, must be as a result of soil being swept in to the lake, displacing the water resulting in flooding of these villages. However, we need more knowledge on this even for future plans,” David Kahoro, a resident said.

Disrupted farming

The rising water levels in the lake has also disrupted farming while pit latrines and boreholes have filled up with water. 

“The pit latrines are useless, the boreholes too. I have abandoned greenhouse farming of tomatoes because the entire place is flooded, a phenomenon that needs urgent action,” Damaris Wairimu, a resident of Mwariki said.

In May last year, Kenya Wildlife Service launched a rapid results initiative (RRI) to mitigate the challenges within the park, that saw a team of researchers dispatched to the lake to carry out a situational analysis with a view of identifying areas that needed special attention.

Among the themes addressed in the RRI included the spatial plan for infrastructure as well as replacement and upgrade of essential park infrastructure. “The current levels are really high and some routes are getting submerged but we are also exploring options of re-routing some roads within the park. The levels have surpassed the 2013 mark,” Lake Nakuru National Park senior warden Collins Ochieng said.

In Lake Bogoria, senior warden James Kimaru said the water has spilled over to farms. 

“The water level in the lake has been rising since 2013 and currently, it is at the highest level. The county disaster team is aware and the matter is being treated with urgency. We have also factored in redoing the infrastructure since we keep monitoring the levels,” Mr Kimaru said.

He disclosed that Lake Bogoria Integrated management plan is in its final stages awaiting approvals. The management plan, will factor in ecological monitoring, tourism development, park operation and infrastructure as well as community outreach.

“Under ecological monitoring, the management plan will look in to issues of rising lake levels and under community outreaches, the neighbouring communities will have to be involved because the lake has swelled beyond the boundary levels,” he added.

Despite the rise in water levels flamingos have not fled.

Lake Naivasha Riparian Association Manager Silas Wanjala said the rising water level has surpassed the 2013 mark.

“Lake Naivasha has swelled to merge with the smaller Lake Oloiden, a phenomenon linked to the rising temperatures in the Indian ocean that has impacted on the rainfall cycle since October,” he said.

The highest water levels recorded currently stands at 1889.77 compared to 1845 in 2013.

“The rains have been intense across the region and have resulted in swelling of rivers and lakes,” he said.

Baringo County Warden in Charge of Lake Baringo Jackson Komen said no facility has been submerged.

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