IMPLEMENTORS of the Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric Scheme (BGHES), a joint Zimbabwe and Zambia project that earmarks to generate 2 400MW of electricity, are likely to face stiff resistance from environmentalists who feel damming the mighty Zambezi River at the gorges would drive away the famous falcon bird.
The powerful and fast-flying Peregrine Falcons are a tourist attraction as scores of tourists especially from Europe go for bird watching in the gorges where they will be nesting.
Stung by a power deficit that is also affecting the whole of Sadc region owing to low water levels at Kariba Dam as well as ageing thermal power stations, Zimbabwe and Zambia started the Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric project where a dam wall will be constructed 54km downstream from the Victoria Falls.
With the dam wall set to be 180 metres tall, which is less than half of the height from the river bed to the highest point at the gorges, according to engineers, the rising water levels will drive away the falcon bird which nests at the gorges.
The birds migrate to the gorges for nesting and environmentalists are concerned that damming the river at the gorges will scare them away as their seasonal habitat will be destroyed.
The concerns were raised at the Batoka Gorges Hydro-Electric Scheme investors’ meeting in Livingstone where participants implored the Zambezi Water Authority (ZRA) to diligently do the Environmental Impact Assessment to fully clear all sensitive areas.
The concerns also cover white water rafting, a tour activity that’s done from Rapid Number 1 at the Victoria Falls Bridge up to closer to the dam site.
Rafting activities will be affected by water levels.
“White water rafting is iconic so don’t underrate it. You need to manage the situation very carefully otherwise you can be found wanting,” said a representative from Ernest and Young, one of the partners assessing the EIA.
The EIA was done in 1992 and is being revised after the World Bank poured some funds for the process.
An engineer Ezekiel Kasaro while briefing delegates at the conference said: “the challenge is the falcon bird. There are concerns that damming here will drive them away but the actual fact is that they are driven away by helicopters which fly around the gorges with tourists.”
ZRA chief executive officer Munyaradzi Munodawafa weighed in saying: “This is the reason why we have kept the EIA under wraps. Due process was done with all stakeholders during consultation stage and we want to allow the consultant to do their job. In any case the falcon birds have relocated because of helicopter flights.”
Work on the Batoka project is set to begin next year, where a dam wall will be built after which two power stations will be constructed on either side of the river to generate a combined 2400MW of electricity.
It is expected to feed into the regional grid where Sadc countries are facing critical power shortages.
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