Decline in Lake Kariba’s Water Levels Linked to El Niño, Warns Zambezi River Authority

March 19, 2024
| Report Focus News

The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) has raised concerns over the unusual decline in water levels at Lake Kariba, a vital hydrological asset straddling Zambia and Zimbabwe. This revelation, made on Tuesday, March 19, underscores a worrying deviation from the lake’s expected behavior at this time of year.

Attributing the reduction in water levels to the global El Niño phenomenon, the ZRA has spotlighted the adverse impact of this climatic condition on weather patterns, including precipitation and river inflow. The headwaters of the Zambezi River, critical for the replenishment of Lake Kariba, have seen diminished rainfall, resulting in inflows that fall short of historical averages.

Data from the Chavuma gauging station, located in Zambia’s North-Western province, shows a slow increase in river flows as the Zambezi enters Zambia from Angola. Despite this, levels remain significantly lower than those recorded last year, with a stark comparison drawn between the flows on March 6, 2023, and the corresponding date in 2024.

A similar downturn has been observed at the Victoria Falls Gauging Station, with river flow measurements on March 6 and March 19, 2024, falling drastically below those of the previous year. The implications of such reduced water levels are far-reaching, affecting not only power generation capacity, which has led to increased load shedding, but also disturbing aquatic habitats, hindering navigation, and impacting recreational activities.

The ZRA has also shed light on the operational concepts of Live Storage and Dead Storage within the Kariba Dam, explaining the critical role these play in power generation and the overall management of the reservoir’s resources. Currently, the Live Storage at the dam stands at 9.17 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM), a mere 14.16% of its potential capacity, highlighting the severity of the situation.

As the region grapples with the effects of El Niño, the decline in Lake Kariba’s water levels serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerability of critical water resources to changing global weather patterns. The ZRA’s findings underscore the importance of adaptive management strategies to mitigate the impacts of such climatic phenomena on hydroelectric power generation and water resource management in Southern Africa.