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Water conservation - Bulawayo

Bulawayo, could introduce water rationing again, unless current rains continue and replenish council dams, which currently hold about 19 months water supply, a senior official has warned. In the event that the rains do not improve significantly, water rationing will become a probable solution, director of engineering services, Peter Sibanda said. In any case whether the rainfall is good or not water must always be conserved and used wisely.

Bulawayo last imposed water rationing in January 1992 at the height of a devastating drought, which swept throughout Southern Africa. This was the most severe water rationing after inflows were the lowest since the dams were built. The scale of the surcharges to enforce compliance with the rationing was so severe that some penalties were not yet settled a year after the rationing was lifted.

Four dams owned by council all situated in the drought prone region and one dam operated by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), supply Bulawayo with water but these sources do not quench the city ' s growing needs. The last dam to be built in Bulawayo was the Insiza Dam in 1976 and its wall was raised in 1991.

Sibanda said Bulawayo received net inflow of 22 489 885 cubic metres of water in the past week. The net inflow is 6, 20% of the total capacity of the supply dams. Council dams are currently at 44, 92% full, holding a total volume of 162 905 654 cubic metres of water, which translates to about 19 months supply at the current average water consumption rate, said Sibanda.

Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe is located in Matabeleland province, a semi arid region prone to droughts. It lies on the watershed between the Southern and Northern catchments. The story of water supply and availability in Bulawayo, declared a town in 1894, is as ancient as the history of the city itself. Bulawayo remains a city of opportunity and an ideal investment destination despite the occasional water insecurity. It has traditionally been Zimbabwes industrial capital and railway centre. The city has continued to explore new water sources in line with the growing population and industrial expansion. Water rationing has been effected four times within 56 years since 1938. This has been necessitated by poor rainfall. The City s Department of Engineering Services has estimated that future water demand in Bulawayo would grow by between three and eight percent per year.

With the conservative assumption of 4, 5% per year, water demand will be 175 000 cbm/day by the next three years. Sibanda said during the last drought year, 50 boreholes were drilled in the Nyamandlovu area and 100 over the city. ZINWA maintains the 50 boreholes and is awaiting the council to pay for the repair of some of them before they can be used. The few boreholes operating are being leased to farmers in the Nyamandlovu area involved in winter cropping programmes. The Nyamandlovu Aquifer pipeline was commissioned in 1992 to complement existing water supplies to Bulawayo.

Other possible future water resources include the connection of the Mtshabezi Dam to the Ncema system and the development of Glass Block Dam. A dam site has been identified 75km south east of the city on the Mzingwane River. In addition, the University of Zimbabwe in cooperation with the Universities of Copenhagen and Stockholm in Norway have done preliminary investigations on recharging the Sawmills Aquifer, just outside Bulawayo. A report to council said investigations estimated that the aquifer has great potential but this has to be confirmed by test boreholes. A proposed lasting solution to the city water problems is the building of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam in Matabeleland North province. The dam is envisaged to augment the city s water supply, serve local communities and provide irrigation water along the route. The Gwayi-Shangani Dam, was allocated US$500 million by government under the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) last year. A contract for the building of the dam on a Build-Operate-Transfer(BOT) arrangement has been awarded to a Chinese company. The dam is a critical part of the ambitious Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project, which has been on the drawing board since 1912. The water project has been touted as the permanent water solution for the city. Its promoter, the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust, chaired by former minister Dumiso Dabengwa, has not come clean on what is delaying the project. Besides, government has been reluctant to allocate money for the project. Last week, MZWT chairman Dabengwa told the press that he was not in a position to comment on MZWP issues until February when everything is clear.

But the city of Bulawayo has shown determination to conserve the existing water supplies by embarking on extensive conservation measures. The water crisis of 1992 triggered a series of public campaigns to save water culminating in the ' Bulawayo Must Live ' media campaign, which has positive benefits. Four years ago, the city started the Bulawayo Water Conservation project to improve the city 's overall Water management, reduce water losses and to upgrade its sewer network. The three-year project was co-financed by council and the government through a grant from Norway. There has been a widespread awareness by residents particularly on the need to report water leaks and conserve water, said Sibanda. Residents have been phoning in complaining about unrepaired leaks after several reports and they have been citing the water conservation adverts. Sibanda added that the city of Bulawayo would look into the possibility of recycling water for drinking purposes in addition to water reclamation being done at some of the city 's sewerage treatment works.

Reclaimed water is currently being used for public amenities and other non-potable uses that can tolerate water of lower quality. It is possible to recycle water for potable uses but there are a lot of factors that need to be considered, including costs, public acceptable, and the quality of the raw water before one can implement that option,he said.