KIPAY is proud to disclose the preliminary summary of the Lower Lufira Research Project titled: Research project to identify, evaluate and propose mitigation measures for the environmental risks that may result from the construction of the Sombwe Hydroelectric Dam on the Lower Lufira River.
This independent research project is initiated by the University of Lubumbashi and EmiAfrica and it is funded by KIPAY.
“The Lower Lufira Research Project” is an interdisciplinary research project bringing together biologists, geologists, mathematicians and chemists from the University of Lubumbashi and the Institut Pédagogique de Buvaku (ISP/Bukavu). This academic project focuses on topics related to river ecology and of course sedimentation caused by hydroelectric dams.
Research has been carried out since December 2020 by leading Congolese scientist and their findings will be published in international scientific journals. In addition, the project has guided six master and bachelor students from the University of Lubumbashi. The students have been conducting their field studies along the Lower Lufira River in close guidance with professors and leading scientists.
The preliminary result from the aquatic studies concludes that: Most of the species identified in the Lufira River at Sombwe are species with a very wide distribution in the Congo basin in general and the Upper River in particular.
Further it states: The fear of ecologists and any naturalist should be allayed by the fact that the species reported in the main reach of the Lufira are capable of migrating to the upper reach from the Sombwe site or possibly downstream from the dam site.
Research Project introduction
The construction of a hydroelectric dam and the operation of a hydroelectric power plant remain above all industrial projects that may require major development work with significant environmental risks, which must be identified, assessed and finally mitigated. It is by acting in this way that the environmental footprint of a hydroelectric project can be significantly reduced, capitalising on its advantages as a renewable and cheap source of energy.
With this in mind, we researchers from the University of Lubumbashi, with the agreement and support of the company KIPAY, and in collaboration with other Congolese and international universities, have initiated a multidisciplinary research project to identify, evaluate and propose mitigation measures to the potential risks that could be posed by the Sombwe Dam construction project on the lower Lufira River in the Mitwaba territory in Haut-Katanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
By lower Lufira we mean the stretch of the Lufira River between the Kyubo Falls and about 50 km downstream of the falls. It is worth mentioning here that the Sombwe Dam will be built about 40 km downstream of the falls where the Lufira flows in a gorge between the mountain ranges constituting natural barriers or dykes against the overflowing waters of the reservoir. It is this stretch of more or less 50 km that we call the lower Lufira, which was the subject of our research because it is the area most likely to undergo significant changes due to the construction of the dam. The multidisciplinary research team was composed of chemists, biologists, geographers and geologists. Two field trips were carried out with the whole team over several months, one during the rainy season (March 2021) and the other in the dry season (August 2021).
The chemists’ mission was to assess the physico-chemical parameters of the water, soil and sediments in order to predict possible changes in these parameters during the construction of the dam and during the operation phase. It is important to note that an abrupt and significant change in the physico-chemical parameters of these elements can disturb the current ecological balance and even cause significant damage to the operation of the power plant.
As for biologists, they should inventory the aquatic fauna in this unexplored part of the Lufira and evaluate the survival capacity of these species in the new environment that will be created by the dam’s reservoir. The distribution of these species in the Congo River basin was also studied. Finally, the geographers and geologists had the task of studying the hydrogeological profiles of the lower Lufira and its catchment area in order to delimit the areas at high risk of flooding according to the hazards, the latter having been classified on a scale of 1 to 4, with the number 4 representing a catastrophic and rare event. The filling of the retained lake is classified at level 1 on the scale because it is an event which can be controlled.