Batoka Gorge project

Batoka Gorge project

THE Zambezi River is Africa’s fourth longest and it is famous for the mighty Victoria Falls perched between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
But beyond this fame, the Zambezi River is also a resource that could be used to generate more power than what currently exists.
Shelved in the 1990s, the Batoka Gorge Dam project has great potential to significantly reduce the electricity deficit in Zambia and Zimbabwe and for such it has been resurrected with an envisagement to have two power stations on either banks of the Zambezi River.
In view of this resuscitation, the Zambezi River Authority ZRA recently undertook a media tour of both sides of the Zambezi River for purposes of exposing media personnel to the dam construction project that has faced opposition from many tour operators and environmentalists who feel the hydro-power dam project could erase the famous white water rafting expeditions on the river, below the Victoria Falls.
But ZRA hydrology technician Samuel Mwale says an environmental impact assessment EIA that was done by BJVC Consortium over the dam construction project in 1993 indicates that there will be minimal impact on the Victoria Falls.
According to Mwale the Batoka Gorge Hydro-electric scheme below the Victoria Falls will cost between US$2.5 and US$3 billion and will undergo further environmental and social impact assessment appraisals before engineering works are commenced.
During the tour on the Zimbabwean side, Mwale says the dam will be about 181 metres high and would take about seven years to build.
“The beauty about this dam is all the water will not affect anyone all the water will be confined in the Gorge. The Dam will be 54 kilometres from the Victoria Falls and will have two power stations on both banks each comprising about 220 megawatts of generating system four by 200 MW each which means 800 MW on the Zimbabwean side and another 800 on the Zambia side,” Mwale says.
He says the 1600 MW to be generated at the Batoka Gorge hydro-power scheme will alleviate the power shortages being experienced in the two countries.
“If there are any impacts that will be found then mitigation factors will be put in place so that those impacts are not severe,” Mwale says.
Mwale admits that while white water rafting below the Victoria Falls will be eradicated by the dam construction undertaking, other forms of sport tourism such as boat cruising and surfing and construction of lodges and hotels will come up.
Other areas found to have hydro-power potential along the Zambezi River below the Victoria Falls, include Devil’s Gorge, after Batoka and Mupata Gorge beyond Lake Kariba and that they would be looked at after the Batoka Gorge project.
And Elizabeth Karonga, who is ZRA public relations and communications manager says the Batoka project was approved and an agreement was signed between the two governments in February 2012 and preliminary preparations to facilitate the construction of the dam at the Batoka Gorge had been done.
She says the delay in implementing the Batoka Gorge project was due to a debt owed to Zambia by Zimbabwe after the desolation of the Central African Power Corporation after the construction of the Kariba Dam.
Karonga says the ZRA aims to have the Batoka Gorge Dam project start by next year or the end of next year but that there was no tight time frame yet.
According to an Environmental Prospectus for the proposed project to rehabilitate the Batoka Gorge temporary access road, Zambia and Zimbabwe agreed to expand the hydro-power infrastructure on the Zambezi River and in so doing approved the construction of the Batoka Dam upstream of Lake Kariba.
“Once completed, as with the Kariba dam arrangement, the scheme will also be co-managed by the two countries through the Zambezi River Authority,” ZRA states.
However, one Pete Roberts posted on the Travel Guide to the Victoria Falls website created by Toby and his wife Boo Peel, opposing the construction of a hydro-electric facility in the Batoka Gorge below the Victoria Falls as originally proposed in 1993.
“Proposals at the time showed that the resulting lake would flood a section of the Zambezi River for some 50 kilometres below the Victoria Falls, drowning one of the most highly regarded sections of commercially-operated white water rafting in the world under its waters,” Roberts argues.
He alleges that the announcement to construct the dam was made after Zimbabwe agreed payment of over US$70 million to Zambia, in settlement of outstanding debts relating to the division and sale of joint assets following the break up of the short-lived Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which united what are now Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
“The settlement of this debt had, until now, been a stumbling block to the development of the Batoka Gorge Dam project. The project proposes to develop a hydroelectric dam facility in the Batoka Gorge at the Moemba Falls, some 50 kilometres downstream from the Victoria Falls,” he argues further. “The other envisaged hydro-power projects include the Mupata Gorge and the Devils Hydro-electric scheme all situated below the Victoria Falls just after the Batoka Gorges.”
The ZRA website, nevertheless, states that the Devil’s Gorge is located on the Zambezi
River and at the downstream end of the Mupata Gorge which lies between the Kariba and Cabora Bassa Dams.
“The proposed Devil’s Gorge Hydro-electric Scheme (HES) is located at the tail end of Kariba Dam, just downstream of the Gwayi/Zambezi Rivers confluence. The earliest detailed studies of the potential of the site for hydro-power development were undertaken by Merz and MacLellan and Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners in 1972,” reads the information brief. “As for the Mupata Gorge Dam site it was initially investigated in 1981 by Merz & McLellan, in association with Sir Allexander Gibb and Coopers and Lybrand Associates. This assignment was under British Aid arrangements to carry out a feasibility study with a view to formulate a power development plan for the government of Zimbabwe.”

From : The  postzambia.com

13 October 2013

By Edwin Mbulo