Lake Naivasha is dying: Government, users wake up to nightmare reality
Can Lake Naivasha be saved? This was the big question last week as the lake’s users and water regulators convened in Naivasha to hammer out a formula to protect one of the world’s most important sites amid concerns that it is just a matter of time before it dries up for the third time, and maybe forever, taking with it billions of shillings in investments and the livelihoods of millions of people.
Can Lake Naivasha be saved?
This was the big question last week as the lake’s users and water regulators convened in Naivasha to hammer out a formula to protect one of the world’s most important sites amid concerns that it is just a matter of time before it dries up for the third time, and maybe forever, taking with it billions of shillings in investments and the livelihoods of millions of people.
Officials from the Kenya Water Resources Management Authority (Warma) and the Naivasha Municipal Council and flower growers agreed there is an urgent need for them to engage the communities around the lake and far up its catchment areas to get its feeder rivers, which have since stopped flowing, back on course.
Listening to the deliberations from the almost tearful speakers, the pain of losing Lake Naivasha became so real, the frustration obvious.
Unfortunately, neither the council nor Warma has details on the lake’s water usage, though officials say the report is being complied and will be ready in a month.
“Without the lake, there is no Naivasha. Without the lake, there are no flowers. Without the flowers, the people who live in the town will have to relocate,” said the mayor of Naivasha Municipal Council.
The Lake Naivasha Growers Association, the Lake Naivasha Water Users Association, the Council and the government are burning the midnight oil to implement the Lake Naivasha Management Plan, which would provide water extraction, recover all riparian land and control usage.
The plan, to be enforced by the Council, states how much water should be allocated to pastoralists, individuals, commercial users, irrigators and tourism.
T.G. Tsakiris Ruli, the administration director of Oserian Development Company, one of the largest flower growers, said the farm is taking measures to ensure water is used only when necessary and only for growing flowers. The farm says it has reduced water consumption by 25 per cent and is pursuing further reduction.
Other measures include reducing the area under irrigation (by 25,000 acres), experimenting on irrigating at levels half of those currently practised, in the hope that the flowers can be weaned out of the pipes, and stopping garden irrigation and watering paths until the situation improves.
The measures, said the Kenya Flower Council chief executive officer, Jane Ngige, are being applied by several farms and all of them are expected to ultimately adopt the measures if they hope to continue growing flowers.
But, according to a Warma official, flower growers consume just a third of the lake’s water; therefore, they may not be solely responsible for the diminishing levels.
Evaporation takes up to 70 per cent of water. Warma chief executive Philip Olum attributed the drop in the water level to persistent drought.
Another concern, raised by Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya chief executive Stephen Mbithi, is that alternative means of watering Lake Nakuru must be found instead of tapping Lake Naivasha’s water. The Kenya Wildlife Service is pumping water there to keep flamingoes alive.
Flower farms are being asked to go fully hydroponic — a soiless growing technology said to be the most effective in controlling water consumption — and replace overhead irrigation with drip lines to minimise exposing water to evaporation, as well as stop water-consuming activities such as maintaining humidity in the cold stores.
Incomplete reports say some flower farms, which the Kenya Flower Council denies are its members, have encroached on the lake.
The council has in the past unsuccessfully asked the government to consider revoking the licences of such farms.
A major campaign is in the offing to sink boreholes far away from the lake and make it mandatory for the farms to collect all rainwater from greenhouses and store it for irrigation and other uses and also start recycling runoff back to the flower beds.
Warma says that it is implementing an ambitious conservation project of planting trees along the lake’s main feeder River Malewa, from Nyandarua to the lake, while the Water Trust Fund has released millions of shillings for a project where communities living near the river are paid to plant trees along the river banks.
that are not members of the body, alleging that since they do not operate under any code of practice their operations are unregulated and are largely to blame for problems associated with irresponsible water extraction and pollution of Lake Naivasha.
A major sensitisation campaign to get the communities to intensify planting of trees is already on the ground and is being monitored by Warma.
The authority is also pleading with people who live in water catchment areas across the country to form groups under the Water Resources Users Associations project and approach the Water Trust Fund to get money to manage water use and conservation activities.
Funds available range from Ksh1 million ($12,000), graduating to Ksh3 million ($36,000), Ksh5 million ($60,000) to a maximum of Ksh50 million (649,000).
The users now want River Malewa’s water that has been diverted to Kerio Valley for irrigation reverted to flow downstream, saying the development is largely to blame for the drying up of the river.