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The Case Of Lake Naivasha

Save the Water™ does not represent or endorse the postings herein or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement, or other information furnished by the author.

European Report On DevelopmentA view of Lake Naivasha from inside a tour boatent:

Thursday, 24 May 2012 06:00

Water, energy and land resources around Kenya’s second largest freshwater lake are under pressure.

Author: Brett Walton is a Seattle-based reporter for Circle of Blue.
He writes Federal Water Tap, a weekly breakdown of U.S. policy. Interests: Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Pricing, Infrastructure.Photo by Brett Walton[/justify]


Last week saw the release of the European Report on Development, a project funded by the European Commission. This edition, the third, serves up an analysis of three of the hottest items in global development policy: water, energy and land.

In bold-faced type, the report claims that the international community must “radically transform” how these three factors of production are managed. That means that national governments must put in the proper policies, that the private sector must adopt more sustainable business models, and that the European Union–the target audience–must use its position as a major trade partner and donor to prod these changes along.

To do this, the report urges action in five areas:

  • reduce the “footprint of consumption” in developed countries (such as those in the EU)
  • use innovation to increase agricultural productivity
  • reform institutions to create a more integrated management system
  • encourage land policies that do not screw the poor and the vulnerable
  • properly price natural resources, including payments for ecosystem services

The report uses case studies to illustrate key points. One area that pops up repeatedly is Kenya’s Lake Naivasha. The research budget for the report even included money for a slick video, posted below, about the lake.

Now you might ask why a small lake in the Rift Valley warrants such exposure. For one reason, look again at the first item on the “action list” and consider this: Kenya is the top supplier of cut flowers to the European Union, the world’s largest flower market.

And then this: the mushrooming growth of the flower industry around Lake Naivasha in the last two decades has brought jobs to thousands, but it has also led to booming growth in the region’s towns, an increase in water withdrawals from the lake, rampant pollution from the flower farms and said towns, and land degradation. Wildlife—the region’s drawing card for tourists—is dying on both land and water.

Wilfred Nyangena, a researcher at the University of Nairobi, says in the video that water, energy and land are essential for the area: “One bad use of any one of those resources leads to disastrous results as far as human welfare is concerned.”

I visited the lake two years ago when I was in Kenya reporting on World Water Day. Traveling around the south shore of the lake, I talked with campground operators concerned about falling lake levels, wildlife guides worried about the chemicals draining into the water from the flower farms, and fishermen wondering what caused the latest fish kill.

The video that accompanies the report shows that some things have improved. Flower companies are paying upstream farmers to put better management practices in place. Federal, local and international agencies are coordinating their management plans. And at least one company, Finlays, is recycling its water for reuse and is using organic pest control, while applying compost as fertilizer.

Yet Finlays is one of the biggest farms. David Harper, a biologist at the University of Leicester who studies Naivasha, told me two years ago that the top exporting farms all have efficient systems, but the smaller growers still just dump their waste into the lake.

Naivasha is a lovely spot, shaded by the broad canopies of acacia trees and guarded by a dormant volcano. It’s also, in many ways, an ideal test case for how to manage the pressures of local population growth and economic development without poisoning the well.

–Brett Walton
Circle of Blue reporter

Past Story By Brett Walton and Circle of Blue

Blooming Controversy: What Is Killing the Wildlife in Kenya’s Lake Naivasha?

Wednesday, 16 June 2010 00:00

Drought, flower farms, and pesticides are damaging the already shallow lake

Algae on the lake margin along the pier at Fisherman’s Camp.

Photo © Brett Walton
Algae has developed on Lake Naivasha’s margin along the pier at Fisherman’s Camp, which is a sign of the lake’s worsening condition. Click any photo for a slide show of all photos.

By Brett Walton
Circle of Blue

NAIROBI, KENYA—-Flamingos are showing up on Lake Naisvasha, a freshwater vacation destination 100 kilometers northwest of Nairobi, and they worry David Kilo. Why? Because flamingos favor saltwater. When flamingos flock to freshwater lakes it’s an unmistakable signal that the natural balances of a healthy ecosystem have sustained a heavy blow.

“They shouldn’t be here,” Kilo told Circle of Blue in March following the United Nations’ World Water Day Conference in Kenya. “They usually gather at Nakuru, [a saltwater body], but recently they’ve started to come to Naivasha.”

“The algae, just like the flamingos, shouldn’t be there.”

No one knows precisely what the threat is to Lake Naivasha, Kenya’s third largest lake. But it’s genuine, says Kilo, the chairman of an anti-poaching conservation group. Droughts prompted by the changing climate, soaring population in cities fed by the lake, and a nearly 40-year-old horticultural industry that uses the lake for irrigation and drainage have shrunk Lake Naivasha to roughly 10,700 hectares (41 sq. mi.) or half its size two decades ago.

In February, a month before a Circe of Blue reporter visited the lake, three days of heavy rains ended with more than 1000 dead fish. The lake’s water turned red. The government blamed the fish kill on low oxygen levels.

The ecosystem damage in this part of east Africa is another facet of a wave of unmistakable evidence in Africa and every other continent that climate change, population growth, and the pursuit of industrial wealth is starting to buckle the Earth’s basic biology. The principle resource most affected is available supplies of clean freshwater….

read entire article from Circle of Blue and Brett Walton

Loktak lake Ramsar Site, India © Dhanaraj Maibam

Discussed in Brett Walton’s article above

The Ramsar Convention On Wetlands

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

The Ramsar Convention is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem. The treaty was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and the Convention’s member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet.

The Ramsar Mission

The Convention’s mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.

The Convention uses a broad definition of the types of wetlands covered in its mission, including lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans.

The Wise Use Concept

At the centre of the Ramsar philosophy is the “wise use” concept. The wise use of wetlands is defined as “the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development”. “Wise use” therefore has at its heart the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources, for the benefit of humankind.

» Read the Convention Text

Other water issue articles from Brett Walton

Written by Brett Walton
Thursday, 24 May 2012 07:00
Mother Jones investigates the link between quite possibly the most contaminated public drinking water supply in U.S. history and the incidence of breast cancer in men who lived at Camp Lejeune, a marine base in North Carolina.

A city council member running for mayor of San Diego has introduced a “Bill of Rights” for water users. KPBS reports that Carl DeMaio wants, among other things, that rate increases be approved by a two-thirds council vote.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration, an independent research agency, shows how natural gas production in Pennsylvania quadrupled since 2009 because of horizontal drilling and its partner technique, hydraulic fracturing.

Ernst and Young, a consultancy, released a report on water use in India. More than 60 percent of households in major cities are water-deficient.

The theme of the European Commission’s Green Week (May 22-25) is “Every Drop Counts—The Water Challenge.”

Other Circle of Blue Water Issue Informative Articles

Wetland Information Of Importance: Ramsar

The Ramsar Sites Database

The Ramsar Sites Database provides information of all wetlands of international importance. It is a searchable database, fully accessible through the internet with a password protected data entry system, and a reporting system for public use.

Click here to search for sites and here if you need instructions.


Upon joining the Ramsar Convention, each Contracting Party is obliged by Article 2.4 of the treaty to designate at least one wetland site for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance. Sites are selected by the Contracting Parties for designation under the Convention by reference to the Criteria for the Identification of Wetlands of International Importance. The Parties’ designations are communicated to the Ramsar Convention Secretariat by means of a Ramsar Information Sheet which provides legal and scientific data on each site and is meant to be updated every six years.

The data included in the database derives from the Ramsar Information Sheet, the Ramsar National Report and/or from Administrative Authority correspondence provided by Contracting Parties. This includes information on wetland types, land uses, threats, hydrological values of the sites etc. The Ramsar Sites Database is primarily a tool to look at Ramsar Sites across geographic and thematic boundaries, useful and necessary for maintaining an overview of a global network of well over 1900 internationally important wetlands from 160 countries.

For each site included in the database a link to the WebGIS is provided which will zoom to site level, showing the center coordinate and boundary of the site (where available) with links to other available products for the site. These GIS data, as well as the site information included in the database, can be downloaded for further use.

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