The Kariba Dam Rehabilitation Project

Wild Zambezi • 5 April 2019

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In March 2019, a team of engineers, representatives from the World Bank, EU, Embassy of Sweden, African Development Bank and journalists, met on site to discuss work on the Kariba Dam Rehabilitation Project (KDHP) which is taking place over the next 10 years.  

The Kariba Dam, built in the 1950s, captures the waters of Africa's 4th longest river, the Zambezi, providing hydro-electric energy and tourism opportunities and contributing to the economic prosperity of Zambia and Zimbabwe for more than half a century.

Designed by the French engineer and inventor Andre Coyne, who was a specialist in " arch dams" (he personally designed over 55 of them), it is an engineering success story and (according to the Zambezi River Authority which now administers the joint partnership between Zimbabwe and Zambia) "a fine example of partnership between the two countries in the development, monitoring and management of a shared water resource".

Given that Kariba Dam has been in existence for nearly 60 years, its condition constantly monitored by international engineers through the Zambezi River Authority, a decision has been made to undertake a 10-year Kariba Dam Rehabilitation Project (KDRP) to ensure the wall's safety and longevity for many more years.

This will cost $294 million, which will be provided by the European Union, World Bank, African Development Bank and the Zambezi River Authority.

Two main projects will be undertaken:-

1. The re-shaping of the "plunge pool" just below the dam wall - where the full force of water released through the spillway floodgates hits the ground below.  This will involve the construction of a "Coffer Dam" to divert water while the reshaping takes place.  

Razel -Bec, a French engineering contracting company with over 130 years experience in road, railway, energy and water supply infrastructure projects has been appointed to undertake the work which is expected to be completed in 3 years.

2.  Spillway refurbishment.  Once the plunge pool has been re-shaped and resurfaced, the six spillway gates located within the Kariba Dam wall will be completely refurbished, and an additional movable /mobile back-up gate installed on the upstream side as an emergency safety measure.

The spillway rehabilitation will take approximately five years to complete.

Watch this information video produced by the Zambezi River Authority, which describes the work involved:-

The Kariba Dam Rehabilitation Project will have no direct effects on tourism to Kariba Town, Lake Kariba or the Matusadona National Park.  In fact it will provide a a fascinating spectacle for interested visitors who may be able to view the on-going works from the Observation Point above the dam wall.

Nobody will be displaced or resettled by the project, as all the work will be carried out within the plunge pool area and on the dam wall.

The Zambezi River Authority has also been at pains to assure the public that the Kariba Dam Rehabilitation Project (KDRP) will not affect the water level of Lake Kariba or the power generating capacity of the two utility companies, ZESA and ZESCO.  


Comments (1)

Having been lucky enough to view the works on the damn earlier today I have one question. Whilst the plunge pool is being reshaped and the six spillway gates are closed how is the water level of the lake controlled? In particular when the water level is high.

Chris Strong3 August 2022
The water level of Lake Kariba is very carefully controlled by the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) which is responsible (along with the Power Authorities for both Zambia and Zimbabwe) for regulating the generation of power through the hydro electric turbines on both sides of the dam. If water levels in the lake start to rise, power generation is increased and more water is pumped through the turbines and released downstream to try to regulate levels so that the works on the dam wall are not affected. There is no denying that this is a very tricky scenario, especially if the region experiences very high rainfall and inflows into the lake in the next few years. This is the reason why the level of Lake Kariba is being kept sufficiently (and artificially) low at the moment (despite reasonably good rains last season) to ensure that inflows over the next six months and beyond will not endanger the dam construction work. The ZRA website monitors the weekly water levels in Lake Kariba and its percentage fullness on their website. See:-

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