own the high hills of the Aberdare Ranges in Nyandarua County lies the only freshwater lake in the Central region.
Lake Ol’ Bolossat is a source of water to thousands of families, a habitat to hippos and home to more than 300 species of birds.
Being the only lake in the region, the threat of its extinction is causing jitters among residents, players in the tourism sector, and others in environmental management sector.
The massive destruction of the Aberdare Forest and human encroachment on the riparian land threaten its existence. In the last decade, the lake’s water surface area has reduced from about 10,000ha to 3,000ha.
The tourism and the hospitality industry within Nyandarua have been negatively affected because of the lake degradation.
Thousands of birds have migrated to other regions where water is plenty. Meanwhile the hippos continue to die.
Cases of human-wildlife conflict have been reported, with residents killed and others maimed by hippos. The conflict is attributed to the destruction of the vegetation around the lake, leading to the hippos invading people’s farms in search of food.
Early this year, hundreds of flamingos had migrated from Lake Nakuru to the lake. But as a result of its looming degradation, they have now returned to Lake Nakuru. “The number of tourists has reduced by half in the last three years. It is extremely difficult to invest in the tourism sector within this area,” says Joseph Kinyua, a hotel owner in Nyahururu town.
The rate at which the lake is drying up is putting the government, investors, environment experts and the residents at loggerheads.
According to Jackson Kinyanjui, a climate and energy expert at EED Advisory, climate change, human encroachment and underground seepage of the lake waters led to the reduced surface area of the lake.
EED Advisory is a multidisciplinary Pan-African consulting firm offering technical, analytical and advisory services in energy, water and climate change.
“There has been increased temperatures globally that lead to high evaporation, especially now that we approach the period of short rains. That could be one of the causes of the lake to lose its waters,” Kinyanjui said.
He said human activities around the lake were also a likely cause: “The lake borders Aberdare Ranges, which has been encroached by people.”
Nyandarua County Government has blamed locals and other stakeholders for encroaching on the Aberdares Forest, nearby land at the lake, leading to drying up of the small rivers supplying waters to the lake.
Top county leadership, in their recent tour of the lake, decried the rate at which the forest had lost its cover.
Water, Environment and Tourism Executive Milcah Wanjiru warned that if stern measures were not taken, the only lake in the region would be no more. “We will take immediate action of planting trees on the shores of the lake and fencing it,” she said.
The official ordered all those who had planted eucalyptus near the lake to cut them down, and illegal settlers evicted.
“This will reduce the human encroachment at the forest and go a long way in conserving the indigenous trees. We will not allow people to illegally hive off the land around the lake or the forest. The county government will make sure the lake is conserved,” Wanjiru said.
She said the Kenya Forest Service had grown 3.2 million tree seedlings in several tree nursery establishments in Nyandarua, which will be planted around the lake.
According to her, some 1.2 million seedlings were of indigenous trees and the rest exotic. “KFS is concerned about the rate at which the lake is drying up. That is why we have set aside the seedlings to be planted around the lake soon,” said Wanjiru.
She said the county government would involve the local communities to foster a sense of belonging. She said the move would go a long way in conserving the lake.
“Efforts to conserve the lake are an indispensable undertaking since it is a source of water to many streams, including River Ewaso Nyiro, which drains to Lorian swamp,” she said.
A committee comprising representatives from the National Environmental Management Authority, Nyandarua County government, Ministry of Lands and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and Wildlife was recently formed to chart the way forward and ensure all the stakeholders read from the same script.
The committee is not only interested in the management of the lake, but also its wetland.
Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia has since promised to woo investors to build hotels at the lakeside to host local and domestic tourists.
Already, two hotels, Kichakani and Samawati, have been put up near the lake.
“This is the commitment of the county government to woo investors. We are ready to make sure that the lake does not dry up because it is a resource of the county,” he said.