Bulawayo dams half empty despite heavy rains


Religious leaders in Bulawayo will be holding a thanksgiving ceremony tomorrow to thank God for the good rains this season. But Bulawayo residents will be wondering what happened to the water because the city’s supply dams are half-empty and the council says it will not lift water rationing.

Inyankuni, the council’s largest dam, is only 30 percent full. Umzingwane Dam is 22.5 percent full while Lower Ncema is 47 percent full and Upper Ncema 23 percent full.

Insiza, though much bigger than any of the council dams, is 70 percent full but only a limited amount of water can be drawn by the council from the government-owned dam.

City Council spokesman, Pathisa Nyathi, said water rationing which was implemented last year would therefore remain in place because the dams only hold 10-months supply under present consumption.

He said the present consumption was abnormal because people had not been watering their gardens for months because of the heavy rains. Consumption was therefore likely to increase after the end of the current season, thus reducing the period water in the dams will last.

What has baffled many, including the council, is why there has been so little inflow into the dams when the city and the surrounding areas have received some of the best rains in years.

The director of the meteorological Services, Amos Makarau, said 812 mm of rain had been recorded at Bulawayo Airport as of March 15. Goetz, also in Bulawayo, had recorded 752mm while Matopos had 705 mm and Shangani 590mm.

All four stations were above normal. Normally Bulawayo Airport receives 480mm, Goetz 527mm, Matopos 524 and Shangani 580mm.

Makarau said this was one of the best seasons on record. It was only bettered by the 1977-78 season when Bulawayo Airport recorded 844 mm by the end of March and Matopos had 817mm.

While the rains that fall in Bulawayo do not flow to the dams that supply the city but instead flow north to Umguza and ultimately to the Gwayi-Shangani Dam that is being constructed, Nyathi said people in the city were still baffled that the dams that supply the city were not full.

“We even had to arrange a trip to the dams for city fathers so that they could see the situation for themselves. After that we organised another trip for captains of industry. Now they know the true situation and appreciate our problems,” Nyathi said.

He could not, however, explain why there had been poor inflows into the dams.

“We can only offer theories. Perhaps there are smaller dams upstream. We are not sure. We would need to carry out an aerial survey to ascertain the situation,” he said.

Some observers say rampant gold panning might be one of the causes of the poor inflows as the rivers are no longer flowing as smoothly as they ought to.

Makaru said though there had been significant rains, dams normally take long to fill especially after three years of poor rains.

Tommy Rosen, manager of the Mzingwane Catchment Area, which covers the area where the dams that supply the city are situated, said he was quite happy with the inflow into Insiza Dam. He said Upper Insiza Dam, which used to be called Fort Rixon Dam, was full and spilling.

The problem was with council dams, Inyankuni, Umzingwane, Lower and Upper Ncema but he could not comment on these.

Rosen said what people had to understand was that Bulawayo was not in the catchment area of the dams that supplied the city.

He said one of the factors people had to consider when assessing inflows was the intensity of the rains.

“If you have heavy downpours, there are likely to be greater inflows to the dams because the water does not sink into the ground. But if you have light, persistent rains, they are likely to soak into the ground and therefore there will be little inflows in dams,” Rosen said.

But while the experts grapple for explanations, residents will have to endure water rationing and the penalties that the council charges. Most residents are restricted to 450 litres a day and the council imposes hefty fines for those who exceed these limits.

There was an outcry over the fines last year forcing the council to waive all the penalties from July to November, but the council insisted that penalties from December onwards would not be waived.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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