At noon on the 22nd of January, the Zambezi River Authority (ZAHARO)opened the floodgates at Kariba Dam to keep the level of the lake within operational levels. The decision to open the gates was made in response to large inflows from the Zambezi’s upper catchment as well as heavy rainfalls in the catchment surrounding the lake. Although ZAHARO did issue advance warnings of “flooding that might occur after the gates have been opened” the dramatic rise in water levels has caused significant damage downstream flooding crops, pumps (the familiar Mungwe Point water wheel was last reported making a break for Mozambique somewhere past Nyakasanga) and some of the lower lying lodges especially since the opening of another two gates in the two weeks after the floodgates were first opened. According to the ZAHARO website, Kariba is currently spilling at a rate about 3000 cumecs (that’s 3 million litres of water a second!) and the effects have been rather dramatic
At Wildtracks, some km downstream from the dam, we’ve seen a 3m rise in water level. Although we are fortunately high enough to have remained largely unscathed by the flooding, our boats and jetty are now moored on the edge of the lawn. The rumours, theories and tip offs from ‘reliable sources’ have been flowing almost as fast as the water and there is talk of Itezhitezhi being opened, which will spill more water into the Zambezi via the Kafue. To add more to the general chaos, there is also word that the gates will be closed for 8-10 days on the 19th of February for an inspection of the concrete spillway after which floodgates will be reopened. Details like timing and how many gates will be re-opened are yet to filter down the grapevine, so it’s likely to be a busy two weeks of river watching to make sure nothing gets damaged when the water goes down and then comes up again!
On the bright side, the high water should build some nice new sandbars for sundowners once the water returns to more normal levels. It may also be good for the fishing and provided the fluctuating water levels don’t play too much more havoc with the ecology downstream (which has already been seriously altered by the change in flow regime in the last 50 years). The inundation of the floodplains will provide access to a lot more breeding habitat for tiger fish and other species, so hopefully we can look forward to a bumper fishing season later in the year.