Lake Magadi faces extinction due to siltation

A section of Lake Magadi with silt on the northern end

By Ben Leshau

Lake Magadi, the sole soda ash producing lake in East Africa, faces risk of extinction in the next five years should uncontrolled siltation continue unabated.

Massive siltation from rampant human activities in five catchment areas drains into river Kisamis which flows into the lake.

The findings were from a fact-finding study conducted by the National Environment and Complaints Committee (NECC) on the degradation of the five catchment areas in neighboring Narok county. The lake is in Kajiado county.

The siltation is blamed on  mining and recently there were protests from residents of Mosiro who live along the Kajiado/Narok border.

Over 100 residents living along the River Kisamis launched
complaints to the committee, claiming that TATA Chemicals Ltd that mines the  soda ash at the lake had built dykes along the river without proper public participation.

After the tour the NECC Secretary Dr John Chumo noted with concern the unabated cultivation of catchment areas such as
Nairagie-Enkare, Kormoto, Oloitip, Suswa and Oltapot catchment areas as the reason for siltation in the lake situated 640 metres above sea level.

“The upper catchment areas are 2000 metres above sea level while the lake is just 640 metres above sea level making it vulnerable to siltation due to soil deposits carried by river Kisamis downwards,” said Chumo.

The Environment Ombudsman also revealed that 30 percent of Lake Magadi has already been covered by siltation and that should the trend continue it will completely disappear in the next five years.

The lake is a key revevue source to the government and local
community as it contributes over Sh5 billion annually in foreign currency and also supports livelihoods of the local community.

Since 2005 water in the lake has continued dwindling due to siltation. Chumo attributes this to wanton destruction of trees for charcoal as well as clearing of shrubs in catchment areas for agricultural purposes.

He said that on a single rainy day an estimated 8,000 metric tons of silt is deposited into the lake thus endangering its

Lake Magadi gets the silt from as far as 90kms which is now posing a threat to the 1,200kms sq lake.

Flood waters from upstream also displace locals who complained that the dykes diverted water to their private lands.

Jackson Kormoto, one of the complainants lamented that they were not consulted when the dykes were constructed along the river and there are complaints of floods sweeping away livestock because the dykes direct water to farms.

“We are ready to conserve Lake Magadi but we need to also be respected and heard,” said Mr Kormoto who represents Mosiro residents.

Chumo attributed the degradation of the lake to illegal activities in Mau forest.

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