Factor in the increasing effects of climate change, with longer and more severe droughts, and water depletion adds up to an enormous risk for not only the Serengeti ecosystem but the people who depend on water for life.
Decreasing water levels in the Mara River is a treat to the Serengeti. The Mara, which originates in Kenya’s Mau Forest and flows into the Tanzanian side of Lake Victoria, is the lifeblood of the Serengeti ecosystem. If it dries up, the great migration will crash. And Lake Victoria, which gets 60% of its water from Kenya, will see devastating impacts.
The threat is real and is happening right now, and it will only grow if Kenya does not adopt wise water management practices. The Mau highlands in Kenya have been massively deforested and water is being increasingly diverted for irrigation in Kenya, which suffers from periodic droughts.
The Mara’s flow has already been reduced by 25%. The Kenya Water Act allows for up to 70% of the flow to be diverted, leaving only 30% to flow into Tanzania. There is pollution from pesticides, sewage, and phosphates. Flash floods, caused by periodic droughts, are eating away vegetation on the river banks.
Another critical water issue is the declining water level of Lake Victoria, the only other permanent source of water for the Serengeti and a source of livelihood for large populations of Tanzanians (and one third of the population of East Africa). Tanzania uses the largest share of the lake, but Uganda controls its outflow. Uganda has constructed two dams and has increased the discharge of the White Nile by 30-50%, reducing Lake Victoria’s level by more than two meters. Another dam is in the works. This has destroyed vast areas of papyrus swamps and put the fishing industry at risk by reducing fish populations and breeding areas.