The slow death of Lake Nakuru

lake nakuru

Buildings constructed adjacent to Lake Nakuru on April 13, 2023. 


What you need to know:

  • In 2015, National Geographic rated it as one of the top 10 colourful scenes in the world.
  • The lake was rated as the second best after Christmas Island in Australia.

Lake Nakuru National Park has had much to offer — a beautiful wildlife haven and spectacular sceneries. In 2015, National Geographic rated it as one of the top 10 colourful scenes in the world. The lake was rated as the second best after Christmas Island in Australia.

But eight years later, it’s now losing its allure, choking under pollution.

According to environmentalists, flora and fauna at Lake Nakuru, a protected wetland and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage site, may soon begin to die because of increasing levels of pollution from untreated sewage and industrial waste, coupled with human encroachment.

Over the years, thousands of flamingos in the lake have migrated to other lakes including Lake Bogoria and Lake Elementaita.

“Lake Nakuru is home to hundreds of bird species, including flamingos that famously form a pink ribbon around the lakeshore, attracting thousands of visitors every year. Industrial pollution by the nearby Mwariki sewerage treatment plant and through the rivers that feed into the lake must be stopped to save the renowned lake,” stated Dr Jackson Kinyanjui, an environmentalist and founder of Climate Change Kenya.

Goats feed on plastic waste in a heavily polluted Njoro River in Barut, Nakuru on June 28. The river is the main source of water for Lake Nakuru.


Dr Kinyanjui, also a researcher, who has spent the last two years studying the rising water levels in the Rift Valley, says a cocktail of raw sewage and solid waste from Nakuru City industries and its suburbs, which mostly contains toxins and heavy metals, is washed down into the lake.

“The raw sewage from Nakuru City and residential areas ends up flowing into the lake. The problem is made worse by discharge of industrial waste, mostly chemicals generated by factories within Nakuru City,” noted Dr Kinyanjui.

“ The once splendid and treasured lake that has been Kenya’s gem is slowly losing its allure.”

Environmentalists now worry that wildlife could be quenching their thirst with contaminated water.

Flamingoes in the lake in 2020.


“Wild animals may be feeding on contaminated food and water. If this pollution is not stopped, we risk losing the 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 Healthy  Nation.

In a shocking phenomenon, in April 2021, dozens of the flamingos that inhabit the Rift Valley saltwater lake died of a disease believed to be caused by industrial pollution.

The sewerage plant that collects waste from various parts of Nakuru has been emptying contents to the lake for the past two years. 

A resident of Mwariki tills land adjacent to Lake Nakuru on April 13


The management of the park and Nakuru County officials admit that the lake is choking under pollution, but say efforts are underway to reduce the impact.

According to Nakuru’s Environment, Energy, Natural Resources and Climate Change Chief Officer Kennedy Barasa, the county has partnered with KEW Technology, a United Kingdom based -sustainable energy solutions company,  to finance, develop, and operate a power plant that will use waste.

“Our partnership with KEW Technology is just one component of the county’s broader strategy to address pollution and embrace renewable energy across all sectors of the economy. We hope that this will serve as a model for other counties in the region, ”stated Barasa. 

The implementation of the project is, however, subject to approval of feasibility study and will take at least six months to prepare.

Mr Barasa indicated that once the waste-to-energy power plant is complete, it will operate within the strict emission limits of the European Union and that it will adopt a modern back-end flue gas treatment technology to drastically reduce the release of heavy metals and dioxins produced from the burning.

The plant is expected to sustainably solve Nakuru’s garbage problem and at the same time create a new income stream for the county government. “We need innovative technologies and approaches that change the way we think about, use and treat solid, liquid, domestic, industrial and commercial waste. Nakuru needs to explore the 5Rs of rethinking, refusing, reducing, reusing and recycling and opportunities that transform waste to wealth.

“Lack of adequate waste management has resulted in excessive air, soil and water pollution, threatening public health, ecosystems and biodiversity as well as accumulating immense quantities of waste in Nakuru’s lakes and rivers,” he further explained.
 In a previous interview, Lake Nakuru Deputy Senior Warden Sirman Kioko revealed that they fear wildlife could be quenching their thirst with contaminated water laced with dangerous metals from the neighbouring Mwariki sewerage treatment plant,which collects all waste from Nakuru City. “Wildlife may be feeding on contaminated food and water, the sewerage is a great threat to wildlife,“ he said. The officer said there was 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 Kioko.

Governor Susan Kihika said her administration will collaborate with the Kenya Wildlife Service(KWS) and other environmental bodies to enforce the conservation of Lake Nakuru and other protected areas in the county.

“Together with KWS and other environmental bodies we will collaborate to ensure forests, wildlife, archaeological sites and wetlands are conserved. My administration will establish an annual environmental clean-up day by all residents of the county in each sub-county,” she noted.

A new report by a multi-agency technical team constituted to assess the impacts of rising water levels of the lake has further painted a grim picture of the situation at the lake.

According to the report, there has been a significant reduction of the forest cover within the Lake Nakuru basin from 2001 when 35,000 hectares was excised to allow for human settlement. The 2001 excision of about 35,000 hectares in Eastern Mau Forest block are responsible for the forest loss in the Lake Nakuru catchment.

“The encroachment on forest land for agriculture and other development has led to stripping off the terrains of important forest cover that played the role of reducing runoff and subsequently soil erosion, leading to increased siltation and sedimentation in Lake Nakuru,” reads part of the report.

 Between 1970 and 2021, more than 600 square kilometres of land was under natural vegetation.

The catchment basin of Lake Nakuru has been cleared for cultivation and settlement as Nakuru City boundaries expanded. As a result, the area under natural forest cover within Lake Nakuru basin has reduced from 47 per cent in 1970; 26 per cent in 1986;10 per cent in the year 2000; nine per cent in 2010 to eight per cent in 2021.

The report reveals that activities in the catchment such as quarrying, deforestation, road construction and poor cultivation practices among others may have caused increased sediments deposited into the lake.

The recent rising of Lake Nakuru was also attributed mainly to climate change caused by human activities. Other factors are underground geological shifts, increased rainfall and siltation.

A study carried out between April 1999 to May 2000 to investigate the extent of pollution of Lake Nakuru, revealed the presence of heavy metals and pesticide residues in the lake.

Water, sediment, fish and algae collected from the lake and its feeder rivers during the dry and rainy seasons were analysed for heavy metals and organochlorine pesticide residues to identify possible sources of contaminants, during the research.

Atomic absorption spectrophotometry and gas chromatography showed that more contaminants were added to the lake during the rainy season than the dry season.

The research revealed that contamination by most of the pollutants has increased over the past 25 years.