Rising lake levels in the Rift Valley pose plenty of problems for tourism businesses

THE RISING WATERS OF THE RIFT VALLEY LAKES

(Posted 06th November 2013)

(The rising waters of Lake Naivasha forced a ‘relocation’ from here to there)

After a recent report about the rising water of Lake Baringo literally ‘swallowing’ Lake Baringo Club and the nearby Robert’s Camp, besides drowning several private residences with record high waters never before recorded, several readers sent in messages about similar developments on other Rift Valley lakes, reason enough to devote part of my recent stay in Kenya to follow up on these leads.

(Link to previous article: http://atcnews.org/2013/10/02/lake-baringos-waters-drown-camps-and-lodges/ )

Following the hugely successful Magical Kenya Travel Expo in Nairobi and the programme components running in parallel, I therefore travelled into the Rift Valley to see for myself, just how seriously some of the other UNESCO World Heritage Site lakes have been affected by rising water levels.

When reaching Lake Nakuru, it was immediately evident that the millions of flamingos, which regularly line the shores of the lake and paint it pink, had by and large gone. Local KWS staff explained that the rising water levels diluted the available diet the flamingos feed on, forcing them to other lakes where they can find food. The migration away of the flamingos has hit the park hard, as it has been known for decades to be the home of the flamingos and people from around the world are flocking to Nakuru to witness this spectacle. To add insult to injury has mother nature added yet more woes as the rising water levels have now turned part of the park into a wetland, impassable by even the strongest 4×4 vehicles, leaving a significant section of the park literally off limits for visitors. Game normally found there, apart from for instance waterbuck and other species regularly found in or near water, has moved to avoid suffering from hoof rot, compelling zebras and giraffes to move to higher ground, away from that part of the park which continues to see yet more water inflow.

None of the lodges are affected as both the Sarova Lion Hill Lodge and the Lake Nakuru Lodge are up on the hills, overlooking the lake but that is not the case on other lakes as it will soon be revealed.

Another lake, nearest to the capital Nairobi in fact, is the Lake Elementaita where water levels too have risen, again forcing many of the flamingos to fly off in search for fodder elsewhere, with far less remaining now than has been the case in many a year. Elementaita, and the wider Delamare estate is also home to the Soysambu Conservancy and many visitors do come more for the game than the flamingos but their absence or reduced numbers have been noticed of course, certainly by repeat visitors.

The most affected lake however appears, after Baringo, Lake Naivasha. I arrived in Kenya in days when Crescent Island was an island only to see it turn into a peninsula with access even by car possible as the water levels drew back more and more, adding on some locations several hundred metres of more lawn before reaching the actual water line. No more it seems. When last at the Lake Naivasha Country Club, construction was ongoing of the luxurious Kiboko Camp and there was no indication whatsoever that the water would come back any time soon, and then so rapidly. I heard that the camp was opened last year in time for the high season, wrote about it and then suddenly the flow of information went very silent.

On arrival at the Lake Naivasha Country Club and when approaching the Kiboko Camp, it was instantly clear why. The thick acacia forest and undergrowth, long home to waterbuck, zebra and impalas, and periodically even of giraffes, had thinned out as if a giant had moved through the little forest and knocked over trees at will while the undergrowth had withered away. The water had returned, and with a vengeance, and acacia trees, with shallow roots, could not withstand the soil getting softer and softer, then water logged completely until finally the sheer weight of the trees made them topple over as they lost their last anchorage in the black cotton soil. The camp is now visible from the main part of the country club and that was the first major change I noticed. Then came the second shock for the owners, Sun Africa Hotels, when the water levels rose dangerously close to the tents wooden platforms, compelling the removal of four of the eight to a rear position while halting the completion of the camp with two extra family tents comprising two bedrooms under canvas and a joint sitting area and deck space.

The main building of the Kiboko Camp is already inside water as are four of the tents, with no present threat and in fact almost adding to the appeal of staying there, giving the feeling of almost being on a house boat. Around the tents, the fallen trees have partly been cleared away while others were left to serve as roosting pads for the many birds which feed off the water like storks, ibis, herons, cormorants, darters, pelicans and kingfishers. Fish eagle calls went back and forth all day long, indicating the presence of plenty of pairs and individuals, providing a spectacle to tourists when they silently swoop down to the water level, scoop out a hapless fish caught napping and move back to their perches. The bird calls echoed around the shores, as if a message was being relayed, a message of easy prey or a message of warning, hard to tell without a bird dictionary spelling out the precise meaning.

In fact it reminded me of my own lake shores, 20 odd years ago, when dozens of fish eagles sat on the big trees along Murchisons Bay, only to see those uprooted one by one, when ‘development’ reached this more distant part of Kampala and plot owners mowed mature trees down by the dozens so as to create a ‘manicured’ garden … on Facebook I would respond with NKTest but alas, the damage is done and I am proud to have kept the integrity of my own compound, trees and all, intact over the years. Back to the Rift Valley lakes though.

The management team at the Lake Naivasha Country Club, led by Avis George, is eyeing the situation very closely indeed and they take regular readings of the water around Kiboko Camp, but should the lake level rise further, by a foot or more, the choices for Sun Africa will be limited, to set back the four frontline or rather water line tents and the main building or else take it down altogether and have another insurance case at hand, where the rising lake waters literally swallow up lake side developments.

Some other lodges and inns along the Lake Naivasha shores, and that was only relayed to me later one or I would have searched them out, have already had water knock on their front door, literally, as new buildings like rondavels, picnic sites and even cottages were built too near the shore at a time when the waters were going back, only now to be faced with the reverse trend.

Speculation is rife over what caused the rising lake levels, and were it just one, it could perhaps be explained with heavy rains, but all of them show signs that the waters have come up. One of the most plausible explanations could be that seismic activity has pushed the floor of the lakes upwards, and theories have in the past been floated that some of the lakes are connected underground. The Rift Valley is a seismologically active area, was in fact born out of a major volcanic eruption and the subsequent turmoil caused by earth quakes all those dozens if not millions of years ago. Tongue in cheek have others, no scientists of course but pranksters of the highest order, suggested that the recently found massive aquifer in the Lake Turkana region is in fact only an overflow facility for those lakes and is ‘leaking’ into them, pushing the water levels up. I reserve my comment on that line of thought but stick to the possibility of seismic underground activity which could have gradually pushed water levels up.

What to do in such circumstances? A stay in the very distant past on Lake Dal / Kashmir on a houseboat came to my mind and who knows, perhaps someone will turn adversity into opportunity the launch a few houseboats, safely moored of course, able to float up and down as the water levels rise or fall, and should dry land ever appear again, they can be set on foundations until the next biblical flood floats them again. I personally can imagine that there will be lots of tourists, and locals out there who would love to stay on a houseboat but only time will tell for how long this natural phenomenon will last. For now thought Crescent Island is again an island, and whoever forgot to drive their car back while it was still possible, prepare for a long wait.

The Lake Naivasha Country Club and the Kiboko Camp, almost aquatic now, continue to provide fine hospitality, great food and the location on the lake is and remains their star attraction. Guests continue to flock to the jetty and take their boat trips, morning afternoon and just before dusk, the birds are as plenty and varied as ever before and if anything I saw more storks, yellow bills in particular this time, stalking the shallow waters and feeding off little fish and frogs. Hence in conclusion, it is and remains a key destination within the Kenyan safari circuit and taking time out from a busy schedule and drive the hour and a half to Naivasha or two hours to Nakuru, is always worth it.

Visit www.sunafricahotels.com to find out all about the club and the camp where I stayed and perhaps follow my footsteps as I move on to cover other destinations on my regular #TembeaKenya trips.

4 Comments

  1. Perhaps Kiboko Camp illegally erected its buildings on Riparian land? The riparian zone is supposed to be sacrosanct and the only permitted use being grazing; see the Riparian Agreement between the Govt of Kenya and the Lake Naivasha Riparian Association which is the custodian of the riparian land.

  2. I have had the opportunity to visit Lake Naivasha before, but not of late and its great to get an update of the current situation. One thing I noted was that as the lake levels went down, land owners would begin redeveloping the “new” land that had emerged, perhaps oblivious to the fact that the waters would some day return. I see the situation as nature reclaiming its own land, and its part of earth’s geological cycle. Its unfortunate what has happened to the hotels, flower farms, parks, etc, but the flooding should serve as a lesson for those doing business in wetlands. Perhaps, Lake Victoria will be next to reclaim lost ground.

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