Flower sector could sink as Naivasha’s water levels rise

Lake Naivasha’s water levels, have been rising steadily in the recent past putting Kenya’s thriving flower sector at risk.

While the current levels, last seen in 1998, will help the lake reclaim its natural boundary, those encroaching on the riparian land including flower firms, fear for the loss of their livelihood and businesses. They face the risk of their developments getting submerged.

By last week, the lake’s water levels stood at 1,889.57 metres, according to Joseph Kariuki, the chief executive officer of the Lake Naivasha Growers Group that is keeping a daily report on the water levels.

In October 1998, the water levels stood at 1,989.89 metres above sea level, but it is expected that 2012 could break this record as the meteorological department has announced the onset of El Nino rains this month.

According to the Lake Naivasha Riparian Association (LNRA) and the Lake Naivasha Growers Group (LNGG), it is not known exactly where the original boundaries lay although the current demarcation is based on the colonial boundaries drawn in 1906.

Boundary question

According to Richard Fox, the chairman of LNGG and the Imarisha Lake Naivasha initiative, efforts to reclaim the lake boundaries have been frustrated by a court order issued in 2003, challenging the implementation of  the lake’s master plan,  following a court injunction obtained by a flower farm alleged to be operating on riparian land.

The lake is earmarked as a Ramsar site — a wetland of international importance — by the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands.

It is also home to Kenya’s multi-million dollar flower industry that conservationists say is facing extinction due to falling water levels brought on by climate change, massive irrigation and a rising population.

But Kenya Flower Council CEO Jane Ngige said the expected increase in the lake’s waters should serve as a warning that nature pays back when tampered with.

“Millions of investments are going to be uprooted, but that’s the price to pay for encroaching on the lake’s land,” said Ms Ngige.

The Ministry of Water and the National Environmental Management Authority announced recently that they would reclaim all wetlands in the country, including Lake Naivasha.

But some flower farms are said to be considering legal action, demanding compensation for title deeds they say the Ministry of Lands issued them.

Thriving flower sector

The thriving flower sector that is credited with the development of Naivasha town, and the opening up of a travel and hospitality industry in the region has often found itself at loggerheads with environmentalists who have blamed the heavy usage of the lake for irrigation as the leading contributor to its shrinkage.

At the height of the 2008-2009 drought, an alarm was sounded that the lake was on its deathbed as wate levels sunk to historical lows. But with heavens opening up in 2010, the situation improved slightly.

In 2011, a dry spell reversed these gains as river Malewa, the main feeder, failed to discharge its contents. But this has been reversed by continuous wet periods this year.

Scientists say encroachment on riparian land has over the years diminished natural vegetation, exposing the lake to

massive pollution, a situation aggravated by increasing population and poor management of waste disposal and drainage.

The situation saw fish die mysteriously in 2009, a development attributed to the sudden regeneration of vegetation and resultant reduction of oxygen suffocating the fish.