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East Africa: Dams and Lake Victoria
Feb 21, 2006 (060221)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Low water levels in Lake Victoria, at their lowest point in 50
years, are threatening the livelihood of people dependent on
fishing, raising the prices of fish, and provoking shortages of
water for electricity generation. And now a new report charges that
the crisis is due not only to drought but also to overuse of the
lake's water for power generation by existing powerplants. At the
same time the Uganda government has signed a new $500 million
contract for building a third power plant, on the Bujagali Falls.
Environmentalists charge that the new plant is likely to have more
negative effects and that the hope of providing more electricity
will prove unsustainable.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains press releases from the
International Rivers Network and the National Association of
Professional Environmentalists in Uganda, as well as brief excerpts
from the new report by Kenya-based hydrologist Daniel Kull.
Lake Victoria is Africa's largest freshwater lake, and one that is
suffering from multiple environmental threats. See
http://na.unep.net/AfricaLakes for a recently released publication
on Africa's Lakes: An Atlas of Environmental Change. Among the
other developments with unexpected consequences was the
introduction of the Nile Perch and its devastating consequences for
other fish species, as described in the recent documentary Darwin's
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
New Report Confirms Dams are Draining Lake Victoria
International Rivers Network
9 February 2006
A new report by a Kenya-based hydrologic engineer confirms that
over-releases from two dams on the Nile in Uganda are a primary
cause of the severe drops in Lake Victoria in recent years. The
report, Connections Between Recent Water Level Drops in Lake
Victoria, Dam Operations and Drought (1), finds that about 55% of
the lake's drop during 2004-05 is due to the Owen Falls dams (now
known as Nalubaale and Kiira dams) releasing excessive amounts of
water from the lake. The natural rock formation controlling Lake
Victoria's outflow was replaced by the first Owen Falls dam in the
1950s. The second dam was built with World Bank funding in the
The lake, which has dropped 1.2 meters since 2003, was, at the end
of 2005, at its lowest level since 1951. The receding shoreline has
caused serious harm to water supply systems, boat operators and
farmers. It is estimated that the lake catchment supports about
one-third of the total population of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
The new study, which analyzed recent reports produced for the
Government of Uganda and other publicly available information,
comes to the following conclusions: The Owen Falls dams have been
releasing more water than allowed by the operating rule agreed by
Uganda and Egypt. This "Agreed Curve" is intended to ensure that
the releases through the dams correspond to the natural flow of the
river before damming. The dam operators' permits dictate allowable
flows based on this agreement. Based on the current Lake Victoria
hydrology, as well as observations from the past 100+ years, the
Owen Falls dams are likely over-sized. The lack of public
information on dam releases, dam operations and river flows makes
it difficult for independent experts to soundly judge the
performance of existing and proposed hydroelectric projects on the
Victoria Nile. With experts concluding that the future climate will
likely involve drier conditions, lower lake levels, and lower
downstream river flows, the lack of adequate stream flows will be
exacerbated, making it increasingly more difficult for Victoria
Nile dams to produce their projected power. This calls into
question Uganda's reliance on hydropower on the Victoria Nile as
its primary source of electricity.
Possible climate change must be a major consideration in the
development of more dams on the Nile. As the report states, "It is
unknown if Lake Victoria will recharge to the high levels and
outflow experienced during 1961-2000, and if such a recharge could
occur, whether it would be in the next years or only in 100 years.
Viable non-hydro, or at least hydro not on the Victoria Nile, power
generating alternatives must therefore be considered for Uganda."
Until the recent addition of emergency fossil-fuel plants, Uganda
has been almost entirely dependent upon hydropower for its
The World Bank insisted in the 1980s that a second dam at Owen
Falls, called the Owen Falls Extension Project, was Uganda's
"least-cost option," and provided funding for the second dam and
repair of the original dam (3). The extension project was
engineered by the Canadian firm Acres International, which based
its design on hydrological analysis that was considered too
optimistic by many other experts at the time. The project did not
undergo an environmental impact assessment; indeed, World Bank
documents stated: "Extension of the existing plant at Owen Falls
will have minimal environmental impact because the project will not
affect downstream hydrology or fisheries." (4)
Frank Muramuzi, of the Ugandan NGO National Association of
Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), said: "This dam complex is
now pulling the plug on Lake Victoria, with implications for
millions. The blame is on three parties: The government for
refusing to listen to any views about problems with these dams;
Acres International, for suspect technical advice, and the World
Bank for backing the project in the first place."
Lori Pottinger of the US group International Rivers Network said:
"The amazing incompetence of the World Bank and Acres reveals the
kind of hubris that fuels so many large dam projects. Africa cannot
afford the Bank's brand of high-risk projects any longer."
For more information:
To contact author Daniel Kull: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Uganda: Frank Muramuzi Executive Director, National Association
of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE)
Tel: +256 41 534453 Fax: +256 41 530181
E-mail: email@example.com Website: http://www.nape.or.ug
In California: Lori Pottinger Director, Africa Programs,
International Rivers Network Tel. +510 848 1155 Fax +510 848 1008
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: http://www.irn.org
(1) Connections Between Recent Water Level Drops in Lake Victoria,
Dam Operations and Drought (released Feb. 1, 2006), by Daniel Kull.
Available at http://www.irn.org.
(2) Living Lakes project, http://www.livinglakes.org/victoria/
(3) According to the World Bank Inspection Panel: "IDA has been
involved in the power sector in Uganda for over 20 years and has
financed several projects, beginning with emergency repairs to the
Owen Falls Dam in the early 1980s. IDA financed the Power II
Project in 1985 (around US$28.8 million) under which rehabilitation
works were carried out for the Owen Falls Dam. In 1991, it financed
the Power III Project with an original amount of US$125 million)
for the construction of the Owen Falls Extension. In January 2000,
it provided a Supplemental Credit to the Power III Project in the
amount of about US$33 million. More recently, the Power IV Project
was approved in July 2001 with a Credit of about US$62 million,
which will assist in financing Power Generation Unit 14, and
contingent upon economic viability, Unit 15 (40-80MW) at the Owen
Falls Extension powerhouse."
(4) The World Bank Staff Appraisal Report, Uganda, Third Power
Project, May 29, 1991.
National Association of Professional Environmentalists, Uganda
Over the Signing of the Recent Bujagali Power Purchase
December 16, 2005
As you are already aware, the government of Uganda on 13th December
this year again signed the Bujagali Dam project deal with a
consortium led by Industrial Promotions Services (IPS) of Aga Khan.
Just like in the case of the failed AES deal 6 years ago, the new
project deal has been signed in total defiance of national standard
procedures, which require that such a deal, which involves huge
amounts of public financing should be presented to Parliament,
thoroughly debated and either approved or disapproved. What
government should have done before hurrying to sign the deal was to
present it to Parliament for discussion in a transparent and
It is unfortunate that the parties to the said agreement say that
the project will cost 500 million USD as opposed to the earlier
estimates of 300m USD, and 400m USD without explaining these
fluctuations in cost and where the money would come from. What is
also not clear is whether the funding would be from private or
public sources. Our view is that if it is the public institutions
such as World Bank, European investment Bank, African Development
Bank or the workers savings with the National Social Security Fund
(NSSF), are used to fund the project, the Power Purchase Agreement
should have been debated and approved by Parliament. However, since
this did not happen, the project is illegitimate. Otherwise, the
Bujagali project remains a bad project for Uganda for a number of
serious problems, including the following:
- There is no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) yet for the
new project. What is relied on is the old AES's EIA which was done
more than 10 years ago. That EIA had numerous problems that have
never been resolved, and does not take into account changes to the
environment (such as lower lake levels and increased erosion from
deforestation) that have occurred since then.
- The issues of affordability of electricity from the project, the
cost of the dam and even its viability remain unresolved as pointed
out by the Inspection Panel of the World Bank in 2002 when the
project was investigated.
- The issue of the hydrology of Lake Victoria and River Nile,
which have far-reaching implications on further damming of the
Nile, has not been addressed in this revived project.
- The dam safety issues in relation to the cracking of the Owen
Falls dam concrete and possible collapse of the bridge, which have
big implications on the survival of Bujagali dam, are also being
- The tourism, cultural and spiritual significance of the Bujagali
falls also continue to be ignored in favour of a dam.
- The consultation process continues to ignore key stakeholders
such as the Basoga clans, the cultural and spiritual leaders, local
leaders, NGOs, Tourism operators and, land owners (such as Sudhir
Ruparella who intends to set up a Tourist Hotel at Bujagali falls).
- There is no plan in place to deal with/resolve resettlement
problems and issues for resettled communities, including security
of land ownership, development and livelihoods, health and
education needs, compensation, etc.
- There is no Environmental Impact Assessment for the transmission
line to distribute electricity from the source to the central grid.
This issue has always raised a lot of concerns in the project
process but it continues to be ignored.
- The Bujagali project must be put on hold until the outstanding
issues are resolved. Short of this, the project does not meet the
standards needed to attract public funding. It cannot be the
project Uganda needs to solve its energy crisis if it only serves
the political interests of the times.
- In the meantime, government should pursue expeditiously the
implementation of Karuma project [an alternative hydro-power
project in Northern Uganda] while at the same time allocating
sufficient commitment to developing alternative energy sources such
as solar, geothermal, biogas, cogeneration and small hydros.
- We urge government and the project developer to meet the
conditions of civil society organizations as stipulated in the
Muramuzi Frank Executive Director
Connections Between Recent Water Level Drops in Lake Victoria, Dam
Operations and Drought
Daniel Kull Hydrologic Engineer Nairobi, Kenya
[Excerpts only: full report, including figures and references,
available at http://www.irn.org/programs/nile/pdf/060208vic.pdf]
The past 2-3 years have seen sharp decreases in Lake Victoria's
water level, currently more than 1.1 m below the 10-year average.
In the past year it has been claimed that the dams at Owen Falls
(Nalubaale and Kiira) are responsible for a portion of the lake's
drop, while others insist that the drop is due only to recent
droughts. This study sought to determine what factors have
contributed to what extent to recent drops in Lake Victoria. Data
has for some time been kept out of the public eye, but recently
released reports as well as on-line resources allowed for rough
analyses of the situation. At the same time, the implications for
the designs and benefits of the Owen Falls and Bujagali Dams of
recent level and outflow changes of Lake Victoria, as well as past
observed hydrology, was analysed.
The major conclusions of the study are:
- Recent severe drops in Lake Victoria (2004-2005) are
approximately 45% due to drought and 55% due to over-releases from
the Owen Falls Dams (Nalubaale and Kiira).
- The Owen Falls Dams have not been adhering to the Agreed Curve
for operations, releasing more water than dictated.
- Based on the current Lake Victoria hydrology, as well as
observations from the past 100+ years, the Owen Falls Dams are
- The current hydrology, long-term observations and non-adherence
to the Agreed Curve for Owen Falls Dam operations must be
considered in the cost-benefit analysis of the proposed Bujagali
- The lack of public information on dam releases, dam operations
and river flows is disturbing and makes it difficult for outsiders
to soundly judge implemented and proposed hydroelectric projects on
the Victoria Nile. Future climates, which will likely involve
"drier conditions, lower lake levels. and lower downstream river
flows" (WREM, 2005a), will exacerbate conclusions 3 and 4, making
it increasingly more difficult for Victoria Nile dams to produce
their projected power, and thus challenge hydropower on the
Victoria Nile as a viable energy alternative for Uganda.
1. The Problem:
Recent Severe Drops in Lake Victoria Level Since late 2003, Lake
Victoria's water level has dropped over 1.1 m from its 10-year
average (figure 1) .As of December 27, 2005, it was approximately
10.69 m, reaching the lowest level since 1951 (USDA, 2005). ...
2. Nalubaale Dam: Turning Lake Victoria into a Reservoir
Since 1959, the outflow of Lake Victoria - the second largest
freshwater lake in the world - has been under human control,
through the Nalubaale Dam (originally called Owen Falls Dam),
located at Jinja, Uganda. The construction of this hydropower dam
effectively transformed Lake Victoria from a natural lake to a
reservoir, controlling the lake's outflow to the Victoria Nile
(which eventually becomes the White Nile. Originally, the outflow
of Lake Victoria, while driven by inflow from tributaries, rainfall
on the lake, and evaporation from the lake, was controlled
"hydraulically" by Ripon Falls. Ripon Falls acted as a natural weir
and constriction, allowing a certain flow of water to exit the lake
depending on the level of water in the lake. The Nalubaale Dam
submerged Ripon Falls, which were also excavated in preparation for
the Dam, thus assuming hydraulic control over the lake.
3. Agreed Curve Mimics Natural Flows
An "Agreed Curve" (based on agreements in 1949, 1953 and again in
1991 between Uganda and Egypt) was developed for the operation of
Nalubaale Dam to dictate how much water should be released from
Lake Victoria, based on the water level in the lake, shown in
Figure 2. This operating rule was developed in a way to retain the
original (natural) pre-Nalubaale Dam relationship between lake
level and outflow. Dam operators adjust the outflow based on a
water balance of the lake computed every ten days (World Bank,
2002). ... In this way, lake inputs (direct rainfall and tributary
flows) and outputs (evaporation and "natural" outflow) determine
the lake level, as they would have in the natural state without the
4. Kiira Dam: Extending the Owen Falls Hydropower Complex
Not all the water being released by Nalubaale was being utilised
for hydropower production. ...The Owen Falls Extension, called
Kiira, was built to utilise the "excess" water being spilled by the
sluices of Nalubaale, thus generating more electricity. Work
started on the Kiira project in 1993 and major construction was
completed in 1999. ... the two dams now in combination control the
Lake Victoria water level and outflow. ...
5. What is the Cause of Recent Severe Drops in Lake Victoria?
In order to estimate what the impacts of both drought and dam
operations are on Lake Victoria's water levels, the annual water
balance1 of the lake was analysed under different scenarios. ...
It can be seen that although the droughts of 2004 and 2005
contributed to the lowering of the lake level, if dam operations
had adhered to the Agreed Curve, today's lake levels would be
around 50 cm higher. There has obviously been an additional factor
in the reduction of the lake level.
During November, 2005, combined Nalubaale and Kiira dam releases
were thus about double the prescribed releases, and are again
extremely close to the average estimated for 2005 (1114 m3/s) in
Section 5 of this report. It is clear that at least for some of the
time since Kiira has come on-line, the combined outflows from
Nalubaale and Kiira have been far above that prescribed by the
Agreed Curve. Dam operations have therefore no longer been
mimicking natural Lake Victoria outflows. ...
7. Mixed Messages on Plans and Operations
The East African media (in Uganda and Kenya, primarily) have had
conflicting messages in recent weeks about this controversy.
Numerous articles have made reference to the lake level dropping
because of drought. But a few articles have stated that the lake's
level is being negatively affected because of the operation of the
dams. For example, an article in The Sunday Vision on 4 Jan. 2006
states that "The (Study on Water Management of Lake Victoria)
report heaped the blame for the continued falling water levels on
the over leasing of water to generate electricity at the two
existing dams, Kiira and Nalubaale" (Tenywa, 2006). In this same
article, Dr. Frank Sebbowa of the Electricity Regulation Authority
denied the dams were at fault, blaming instead global warming. He
said: "The new dam (Kiira) is supposed to replace the old dam
(Nalubaale), which has become obsolete" (Tenywa, 2006). ...
8. Disputed Hydrology
The hydrology of Lake Victoria, especially
the outflow into the Victoria Nile, has long been a topic of
disagreement among hydrologists and engineers. Between 1960-1964,
Lake Victoria experienced a massive 2.5 m increase in lake level,
which many experts have attributed to a period of excessive
rainfall, but the precise cause of which is not agreed. Computed
averages for lake outflow depend greatly on the period of record
9. Implications for the Owen Falls Complex
The original Kiira design and cost-benefit analysis were based on
the higher average flows experienced after 1961. Acres
International assumed a 99% probability for the continuation of the
higher flows (thus implying a 1% probability for reversion to
earlier low flows) for their investment risk analysis....
.. the original Nalubaale plant, with its expansion to 180 MW, was
well designed to capture the hydroelectric potential of the Owen
Falls site in a sustainable manner. Considering that the project
target capacity of the Owen Falls complex is 380 MW, with so far
300 MW having been installed, it must be concluded that the
complex, especially Kiira, has been over-designed. This scenario
was noted in the project documents: "The only significant risk to
economic feasibility would arise if low hydrologic regime flows of
the magnitude of the pre-1961 streamflow data set were to occur. In
this case, the extension would not be economic." (World Bank,
1991). Recent technical reports further support this conclusion:
"The full installed capacity of the (existing and proposed) Kiira
units (208 MW) cannot be utilized until 1137 meters lake level,
which, of course, is undesirable from a lake level management
standpoint." (WREM, 2005b).
10. Implications for Bujagali Dam
The prospect of the flow and thus hydropower output of Bujagali Dam
meeting cost-benefit expectations is a bit more positive, as the
project design appears to have been based on the full hydrologic
record (World Bank and IFC, 2001). ...Bujagali was designed
assuming the flow released from Lake Victoria through the Owen
Falls complex would be in accordance with the Agreed Curve (World
Bank and IFC, 2001). As it is clear now that the Agreed Curve is no
longer being respected and the Victoria Nile flow regime has
changed, the original long-term energy output assessment for
Bujagali is no longer valid.
... The Agreed Curve is no longer being adhered to, and the
resultant overrelease of water from Nalubaale and Kiira is
contributing to the severe drop in water level in Lake Victoria.
The drops in Lake Victoria threaten the future performance of the
Owens Falls dams, as well as to a lesser degree the proposed
Bujagali Dam. "It is clear that future climates imply drier
conditions, lower lake levels. and lower downstream river flows"
(WREM, 2005a). It is unknown if Lake Victoria will recharge to the
high levels and outflow experienced during 1961-2000, and if such
a recharge could occur, whether it would be in the next years or
only in 100 years. Viable non-hydro, or at least hydro not on the
Victoria Nile, power generating alternatives must therefore be
considered for Uganda. ...
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