A Vanishing Lake?

Hello – I’ve been meaning to run a number of posts on the changing environment in East Africa. As pretty much everyone is aware, there are a lot of changes taking place globally, with shifting weather patterns having serious effects on many different habitats. In Kenya, and much of East Africa, drylands are very sensitive to change and without annual rains that renew and refresh, they slowly turn to deserts. Even though much of the Eastern Great Rift Valley and it’s extensions are hot and arid, there are many lakes in it that area fed from streams and rivers that originate in forests in the surrounding highlands. These highlands are also home to millions of people and the ‘bread-basket’ of the country as this is where all of the food is grown. However, much of the agricultural land is expanding and many rural populations rely on firewood for fuel which places a lot of pressure on forests.Many local watersheds (areas that drain into a single lake/river system) are impacted by human activities both close by, and far away. Kenya’s lakes are in deep trouble, and this message is being screamed out by one small lake in the Northern Rift, Lake Kamnarok, a blue canary in the coal-mine, if you will, but is anyone listening? The Kerio Valley is one of my favourite places in the world. Many of the more exciting posts on this blog have been about the insects and other inhabitants of this special place…kerio-valley-dec05-lr1.jpgIn the central floor of the valley is Lake Kamnarok, which has been until recently, a permanent freshwater lake fed by the Kerio River from the surrounding highland forest. These forests have been relatively undisturbed until recently and are especially lovely when the Cape Chestnut trees flower, dotting the green mosaic with pink.eldama-forest-lr1.jpgLake Kamnarok, like many of the lakes in this region does undergo seasonal fluctuation.Here is a picture of the lake from a few years ago:kamnarok-july05-lr1.jpgJuly is just after the ‘long rains’, and the lake was pretty full at the time. Even in the dry season that same year, there was still water in the lake from the ‘short rains’…. kamnarok-dec05-lr1.jpg  Over the last few years, Lake Kamnarok has been getting shallower, and large beds of rooted weeds have appeared in the lake. You can see this in the picture below taken in August last year…kamnarok-aug07-lr1.jpg So what’s going on here?Well – two separate things, but both having the same result.Firstly, there is severe soil erosion taking place locally. The pastoralist peoples of the valley floor are increasingly sedentary. More and more people are keeping more and more goats who are busy eating anything they can find. Here is a picture of some serious erosion on the valley floor near the lake…kerio-erosion-lr.jpgThe result of this erosion is hundred of tons of silt and soil washing into the lake. This raises the lake bed and makes it easier for invasive plants to take hold. It also makes the rate of evaporation go up.Of course, as this is a remote part of Kenya, with only a poor, rural subsistence economy, it never received much attention. Through 2007, more and more silt was washed in by the rains. And, simultaneously, water began to be diverted upstream in the highlands. Of course this had very serious implications. If you put in less water than is being lost to evaporation, well even a pre-school child can figure out that the lake will shrink: if you put in less and take out more, sooner or later you will run out! Not only did it shrink, but it dried up completely! This happened some time at the end of 2007/beginning of 2008.Despite the rains (you can see the green fields in the highlands above the valley in the bottom of the picture), the lake did NOT fill up. The local community cannot remember when the lake last dried up, and many of the plants now appearing in the drying mud-flats are also ‘new’ to them – i.e. recent invasive species. Here is a picture of the lake entirely dry earlier this year:kamnarok-june08-lr1.jpg In case you can’t tell where the lake is, this picture highlights the dry lake bed:kamnarok-june08-lr2.jpg The lake was home to an estimated 20,000 crocodiles. They retreated to a series of tiny pools trapped in hollows towards the Kerio River. Then in August some very heavy rains did bring water back to the lake. But not much, as you can see from these pictures taken from the lake-bed itself…kamnarok-cow-lr1.jpgkamnarok-boys-mamlinlr1.jpg(Above photo by J. Mamlin) The lake is currently rapidly drying up once more. While this dramatic event has not made any headlines in Kenya or elsewhere, Lake Kamnarok, as fragile as she is, is still crying out a warning to us – stop deforestation and soil erosion or soon there will be no freshwater! The people most affected by this will be those in the valley first – as many thousands of households rely entirely on the lake and surrounding pools/ponds for all their livestock and human daily water needs. This girl has to walk even further
when the lake dries up in order to fetch water for her family (Photo by J. Mamlin)…kamnarok-girl-mamlinlr1.jpg  When I last looked at the lake, before travelling, it was rapidly drying up again…kamnarok-sept08-lr1.jpgHopefully this time someone will listen to her… 

11 thoughts on “A Vanishing Lake?”

  1. Very sad this story of Kamnarok, Dino. We can only hope that it will continue as a seasonal wetland. What happened to the “Lake Kamnarok Reserve”? And what will happen to the Kerio river itself?

  2. Hi – thanks for your comments. Yes – the reserve is still there – at least on paper. On the Keiyo side of the valley, Rimoi National Reserve is still a fairly large and unspoiled wilderness area, but on the other side, Lake Kamnarok National Reserve has a large number of people who have settled in it to be closer to the water (Lake Kamnarok and River Kerio), and are cultivating maize, millet, etc using irrigation where they can. There is also an active sand-mining industry and charcoal production throughout this area (and increasingly the rest of the valley) that exploits the Acacia tortilis woodlands.

  3. Hi work as a journalist and from the area,Keiyo side.I saw Kamnarok dieying.Political supremacy,lack of good will from the leaders,wildlife human conflicts and personal interests.
    May God judge those who killed the home of more than 20000crocos.

  4. sorry for being back once more.The situation is worse as at now.No water for both wildlife and the local community.
    The locals say they need to be compensated to move out of the park by KWS.The wildlife body says it cannot do so since they are only custodians of the park that is managed by Baringo County Council.
    The Council says it has invested heavily on the park that only gives less than sh20000 a month.
    The blame game is on and oooon.Right now,that is no even a single drop of water…only mud!.who cares?

  5. Hello – many thanks for getting in touch and your comments on the Kerio Valley. I would like to see more coverage of the issues faced in the local press. The consequences of not taking any action to avert the death of the lake are very serious, not just for the wildlife, but even more so for the people who live in the area.

  6. HI, i work as an officer with one of the Wetlands Forum. the current status of the once known lake and home for thousands of biodiversity is very disturbing. if an ecological evaluation could be done, surprisingly the value forgone by losing the lake can be amazing. there are fears that what has happened in Lake Kamnarok will soon replicate in other Rift valley lakes. Its not over yet, the stakeholders need to revive the lake or else it will remain only in history books.

  7. Hi,i am a resident of Iten and deeply worried by the imminent extinction of the lake.Something has to be done hastily to avoid losing one of kerio valleys natural beauties.It once had the second largest population of crocodiles in Africa,

  8. Hi am a resident there.As the residence of the area many mistakes were done both by the community and the government in realizing the importance of the wetland to many bio-diversity and the people living there. It is high time that a solution is made to save this rich ecosystem.Yes it can be done.Let us return the glory of this lake back…!

  9. I come from Kerio Valley (that is my native home). I have been trying to do some research on Lake Kamnarok and I was very sad to come across this article. I am so disappointed in ou leaders who obviously do not care about this gem and the people living around it. Its a pity that there’s almost no development around this area YET we are watching it disappear before our eyes. Its time to stand up and do something about it since we cannot rely on our so called leaders!

  10. Hi
    I like your articles and they are really educative. I am an environmentalist and would like to do some research on Lake Kamnarok. So I would like to request some articles or link to past research on the topic for my literature review. Kindly assist. Thanks

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