A flock of flamingos glide gracefully by the shores of Lake Nakuru.
ln the lush grassland, buffalos stand in herds, except for one bouncing calf running around.
It is a beautiful sight, but all is not well at the lake that hosts the renowned Lake Nakuru National Park.
The world-famous Lake Nakuru was once a pearl in the chain of lakes that dot the great Rift Valley.
No longer a sight to behold
However, the lake is no longer a sight to behold; it is reeling under the pressure of continued heavy pollution.
The lake, categorised as a Unesco World Heritage tourism site, is slowly losing its allure, choking under pollution.
A cocktail of raw sewage and solid waste from Nakuru town’s industries and its suburbs, containing plastic and heavy metals, is washed down into the lake.
Its problems are now compounded by the steadily rising waters, a phenomenon that has affected several other Rift Valley lakes.
Rising water and pollution
The pressure from the rising water and the pollution now threaten to take away the lake's tag as an international tourism site, the Nation can reveal.
Most worrying is the pollution from a nearby Mwariki sewage treatment plant and the heavily polluted River Njoro, which drains its waters into Lake Nakuru.
"Lake Nakuru is in a very sorry state. The quality of water in the lake is not as it used to be because of the waste from Nakuru town disposed of inappropriately, which finds its way into the water body. The sewer treatment plant next to the lake is another great threat," said Mr Julius Muli, a conservationist.
Environmentalists have now warned that continued pollution of the lake caused by discharge of effluent into the lake is endangering the lives of wild animals.
“Lake Nakuru was once very popular due to the abundance of the beautiful flamingos, but if this pollution is not stopped, we risk losing the world heritage site. Both the county and the national government should join hands in efforts to end pollution of the lake,” Mr James Wakibia, an environmentalist told the Nation.
Lake Nakuru Deputy Senior Warden Sirman Kioko, revealed to the Nation the authorities’ fear that wildlife could be quenching their thirst with contaminated water laced with dangerous metals from the neighbouring Mwariki sewage treatment plant, which collects all waste from Nakuru town.
“Wildlife may be feeding on contaminated food and water, the sewage is a great threat to wildlife, “he said in an interview.
Efforts to obtain a comment from the Nakuru County government officials was unsuccessful.
County Environmental and Natural Resources Executive Festus Ng'eno and his chief officer, Mr Kiogora Muriithi, did not answer calls and text messages sent to them.
However, Mr Muriithi, in a past interview with the Nation, admitted that the lake is under pressure from pollution.
The officer said there is need for an upscale of waste water management as well as industrial discharge to ensure only quality water enters the lake.
“We must do this alongside continuous awareness creation on benefits of the lake and enforcement of existing laws and regulations. Regular clean-up exercises should also be intensified to save the lake, which is the pride of Nakuru,” said Mr Muriithi.
Rivers heavily polluted
Rivers Njoro, Makalia, Nderit, Naishi and Larmudiak, which flow from the Mau Escarpment and feed the lake, are also heavily polluted.
The Nation has established that pollution is so high that the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kemfri) last week banned consumption of fish from Lake Nakuru.
Agriculture Chief Administrative Secretary Lina Jebii Kilimo pointed out that research conducted on samples of the fish drawn from Lake Nakuru indicated the presence of chemical elements that may be poisonous if consumed.
Ms Jebii’s sentiments come in the backdrop of a booming fish business in Lake Nakuru, following an upsurge in freshwater fish species.
Hundreds of residents of Mwariki estate around the lake had ventured into the fish business to earn a living after the rising water in the lake covered their homes last year.
Unprecedented water levels
The water levels in the Rift Valley lakes including Nakuru, Baringo, Bogoria, Naivasha and Elmentaita have in the recent past increased, recording unprecedented levels.
A spot check by the Nation at the lake revealed that the current alarmingly rising waters of the lake have also complicated the situation since the water has inundated part of the sewage treatment plant.
Currently, the sewage plant cannot be accessed from Lake Nakuru, after a road leading to the site was submerged.
The lake is currently experiencing rising waters which have swallowed sections of the neighbouring lush grassland, threatening to engulf wildlife habitat.
Already, conservationists and environmental experts have warned that the continued rise of the water threatens to swallow the vegetation that wildlife at the Lake Nakuru National Park feed on.
According to Mr Kioko, about two decades ago, up to two million lesser and greater flamingos (a third of the world’s population) would flock the alkaline water to feed on the abundant blue-green algae cultivated by their own droppings.
However, pollution, coupled by the rising water level in recent years — also experienced in more than five other Rift Valley lakes — have caused a big drop in salinity, and a number of flamingos have left Lake Nakuru.
"Thousands of the flamingos migrated to other areas including Lake Bogoria, Elmentaita, Magadi and Natron (in Tanzania). The birds have been fleeing Lake Nakuru to other areas in search of food with reduced growth of the blue-green algae — the flamingos’ main food," revealed Mr Kioko.
Lake Nakuru currently supports less than 500,000 flamingos, compared to two to four million just a few years ago.
“Ten years ago, you could see millions of flamingos, it was like a big pink cloud. Today, that number has reduced,” a ranger at the park told the Nation.
Out of the five flamingo species, there are two that inhabit Lake Nakuru — the lesser and the greater flamingo.
The flamingos feed on blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which thrive in alkaline water.
Other wildlife at the park are lions, gazelles, baboons, rhinos, zebras, water bucks, buffaloes and the elusive leopard, among other animals.
Lake Nakuru National Park also serves as a sanctuary for endangered black and white rhinos.
Lake ‘as good as dead’
However, on March 26, 2019, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, during a stakeholders' meeting in Naivasha, said that Lake Nakuru was "as good as dead" due to heavy pollution and the migration of flamingos from the water mass.
He called for the formation of a team to address land encroachment at lakes Nakuru, Naivasha and Elmentaita, and asked scientists from the Kenya Wildlife Service to address the loss of biodiversity and the flight of flamingos from Lake Nakuru in a bid to restore it to its former glory.
In May 2019, a clean-up by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) aimed at restoring the glory of Lake Nakuru National Park, which once raised Sh1 billion in revenues yearly, started.
KWS Director-General John Waweru, said the clean-up, under the Rapid Results Initiative, was aimed at upgrading infrastructure within the park and demolishing submerged structures as well as improving the quality of water, within 100 days. This was aimed at attracting back the flamingos.
However, although the birds came back in August 2020, little has been done to tame pollution of the lake.