High Zambezi River water levels bring splendour at Victoria Falls and a rising Lake Kariba

Adapted from an original blog by Africa Albida Tourism • 30 May 2018

One of Mother Nature’s greatest works of art, Victoria Falls, reached its fullest splendour in May 2018, with the Zambezi River peaking at its highest in nearly a decade mid month.

Figures measured by the Zambezi River Authority in mid May 2018, show that the water levels of the Zambezi River at the Victoria Falls station rose steadily from a flow of 4,532 cubic metres per  second on May 8, peaking at 4,675 cubic metres per second on May 16.

Nearly twice as much water is currently flowing over Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, which straddles Zimbabwe and Zambia, compared to this time last year. 

However, since May 16th, records show that the maximum daily flow has already begun to fall - a natural occurance as the dry season takes hold.

The last time there was more water flowing over Victoria Falls was in April 2010 when flows reached 4,969m3/s, says Authority water resources and environmental management director Engineer Chris Chisense.

The 2,574km Zambezi River rises in Zambia, flows through Angola, Namibia and Botswana, and between Zimbabwe and Zambia, where it plunges more than 100m into the Batoka Gorge to form Victoria Falls.  It then defines the boundary between northern Zimbabwe and southern Zambia, including the huge Lake Kariba behind Kariba Dam, and the vast, wilderness areas of the Mana Pools/Sapi/Chewore World Heritage Site, before crossing into Mozambique passing through the Lake Cahora Bassa and its dam and finally emptying into the Indian Ocean.

Despite this year's high Zambezi River levels, Eng. Chisense says this remains within the normal range for Victoria Falls during this time of the year.

“However, there has been a slight shift in the peak from mid-April to mid-May due to heavy rains experienced mainly around north-eastern Angola and north-western Zambia which has been quantified as above normal,” he says.

The rainfall received in north and western Zambia mainly accounts for the water level in the Zambezi around Victoria Falls, with rains falling in Angola also adding to the Zambezi River flows observed, Eng. Chisense says.

“In general terms, it can be said that the rainfall on the Upper Zambezi accounts for more than 50 per cent of the flow observed at Victoria Falls. The more the rains in these areas above of the Zambezi upper catchment, the higher the river flows.”

Like of all of Mother Nature’s creations, Victoria Falls is ever changing, with the Zambezi being a rain-fed river, its levels of water vary markedly throughout the year, following the seasons.

It is now at its fullest (the image above was taken in April 2018), with the entire 1.7km width of the Falls, a thundering wall of falling water, but come November, after the dry season, water levels will drop to their lowest, to perhaps just a tenth of the current volume (see the image below).

But like any magnificent work of art, Victoria Falls will be admired at different times of the day, and from different angles, and in high or low water, still allowing its viewer to marvel in wonder.

Meantime, the water levels of Lake Kariba, which is downstream from Victoria Falls, continue to rise, as inflows from the Zambezi River and other tributaries continue to flow into it.  The lake level this year is currently more then 3m higher than it was last year, and is standing at 80% full (as opposed to 55% full this time last year).  

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