Lake Elementaita, Rift Valley, Kenya

Lake Locations:

Kenya - Rift Valley -

Also known as:  Lake Elmenteita, Lake Elmentaita, Lake Elementeita

One of the lesser-known ‘soda lakes’ in Kenya’s East Rift Valley, Lake Elementaita is becoming a major eco-tourism destination. As one of the three saline lakes that make up the Kenya Lake System of the Great Rift Valley, Lake Elementaita is one of the main feeding lakes for the Lesser Flamingo. Only ten miles away, Lake Nakuru gets the most visitor attention to see the flamingos, but those same flamingos regularly travel to Lake Elementaita and Lake Bogoria farther north as a part of their feeding routine. The unique chemical composition of the saline lakes creates ideal conditions for the growth of spirulina, a green algae that is the only food source for the Lesser Flamingo. These three saline lakes lie aligned within the Rift Valley and share water sources from the fault fissures below. Where Lake Nakuru is famous as the breeding grounds for the Lesser Flamingo, Lake Elementaita can claim that honor as the breeding grounds of the Pink-Backed Pelican. As most of the lakeshore has been in private hands for the past century, it has escaped the notice of the tourism trade until very recently.

A RAMSAR site since 2005, Lake Elementaita is extremely shallow, with an average depth measured in inches in most areas. Two main inflowing rivers, the Kariandusi and the Mereroni, both flow from the eastern escarpment. More water is introduced by springs, both fresh water and hot saline, bubbling up at the south end of the lake. Some of this water has been proven to come from Lake Naivasha, a fresh-water lake a few miles to the south. The springs create a wetland complete with reed beds where tilapia breed. As the climate is semi-arid, with rainfall only during two short rainy seasons in spring and fall, evaporation affects the size of the shallow lake considerably. Not understanding this tends to lead to panic among ecology fans when the lake’s surface decreases dramatically. In 2009, some foreign news reports stated with alarm the lake was in danger of drying up completely, which is not unusual for Lake Elementaita. By 2011, a local charity cycling event had to change its route due to the lake water covering the nearby road. The tenuous nature of these lakes is why all three lakes in the Kenya Lakes System are so important to the 100+ species of migrating birds that depend on them. Some of these include the yellow billed stork and marabou stork, African spoonbill, black winged stilt, black-necked grebe, gull billed tern, little grebe, grey-headed gull and pied avocet. Bird-watchers are especially thrilled to see the huge flocks of birds, large and small, take to the skies on their way to the next lake in the system.

There are no permanent settlements directly along the lake, likely due to the constantly-changing shoreline. One small village exists along the road south-east of Lake Elementaita. Minor household agriculture and livestock-rearing occur near the lake, and locals harvest salt and bathe in the warm springs. Two conservancies hold the rest of the lakeshore and surrounding territory in a protected state; the larger is the Soysambu Conservancy. Covering two-thirds of the shoreline, the Conservancy is home to over 12,000 native animals, including cheetah, water buck, jackal, leopard, lion, zebra, warthog, gazelle, eland, buffalo and giraffe. A number of low, rugged, lava-rock islands in the shallows are the nesting site of the Great White Pelican. At hatching time, the rocks are completely covered with the downy grey fledglings of 8000 breeding pairs of birds. As the fish resources in the lake aren’t numerous enough to support these broods, their parents fly to other nearby lakes to bring back fish in their beak pouches for the young to eat. The natural ecosystem is a delicate balance; the introduced tilapia are thought to have reduced the amount of green algae as food for the flamingos, as better fishing has encouraged many other birds to visit the lake to fish. Scientists are carefully studying the ecosystem to learn how to best protect it.

Soysambu Conservancy is a working cattle ranch, established in the 1870s. The owners live on the ranch and have dedicated their land and resources to preserving the natural ecology of the lake and its surrounding areas and to bettering the lives of local inhabitants. Working with the Kenyan government and non-profit groups, the conservancy not only protects the rare and endangered species within its borders, but also offers educational seminars to local inhabitants on better ways to make use of their scarce resources. The conservancy provides lunch to two schools located near the lake, and with the Kenya Wildlife Service sponsors charity events such as the ‘Cycling with the Rhinos’ event to generate funds to repair electric fencing at Lake Nakuru National Park. As part of the plan to provide a source of income to locals while opening up Lake Elementaita’s scenic vistas to the wider world, a number of lodges and camps have been developed to offer lodgings to visitors.

The status of Ututu Conservancy is unclear as there is little published information. It appears to encompass much of the 9000-acre Elementeita Badlands, also called the Ututu Forest. The eventual plan is to produce a continuous band of protected land as a wildlife corridor between Lake Elementaita and Lake Nakuru National Park. The Badlands area is primarily brush-covered lava flow surrounding spectacular peaks and extinct volcanoes. Lava tube caves in the area show evidence of prehistoric human use and were used as hiding places for local residents during the violence that followed the 2007 elections. The surrounding highlands reach up to 7440 feet above sea level and are an inviting climb for adventurous visitors. Some of the eco-tourism groups focus on these extinct volcanoes and lava cave exploration. Nearby, the Kariandusi Museum is an important pre-history site where Louis Leaky discovered stone hand-axes and cleavers in 1929. The land is somewhat inhospitable to its inhabitants but very inviting to guests of the half-dozen lodges and camps in the area. Some of the lodges are quite luxurious, while others offer a more native and spartan choice of thatched huts or tents.

Less than two hours by road north of Nairobi, Lake Elementaita makes an excellent base for visiting the many game parks, national parks and preserves located in this part of the Rift Valley. The Soysambu Conservancy is only open to ‘guests’; usually admittance can be arranged through the lodges around the lake. Opportunities to enjoy a different, more natural safari vacation are becoming rare as Kenya becomes more commercialized. Lake Elementaita may be one of the last, best places to experience the primitive landscape that was once common in the Great Rift Valley. Come and enjoy the lava outcropping, escarpments and ancient volcanic peaks above the soda lake carpeted with bird life. A camera is absolutely necessary.

*Surface area shown in the statistics reflect the lake’s area when full. The actual mean depth of the lake is less than four inches in most areas.

Things to do at Lake Elementaita

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Biking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • Museum

Fish species found at Lake Elementaita

  • Tilapia

Lake Elementaita Photo Gallery

Lake Elementaita Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Saltwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 5,436 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,479 feet

Trophic State: Hypereutrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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