Environmental watchdogs have warned that if the problem continues, the source of drinking water for the city of Masvingo, which also contributes 65% of irrigation water in the lucrative sugarcane industry in the Lowveld, may become unusable.
The water in Mushagashe River, which feeds into the lake, has turned green due to raw sewage spilling into it everyday.
Water hyacinth, a free-floating perennial plant with thick, glossy round leaves, inflated leaf stems and very showy lavender flowers, is fast multiplying in the river.
Along the river’s banks, dead fish and other aquatic inhabitants are strewn around.
Nobody dares to touch the rotting fish. Only eagles feast on them.
A foul smell buffets over Mucheke Bridge, along the Masvingo-Beitbridge road. At a nearby hotel, one cannot run away from the reek.
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) provincial head Milton Muusha said more than eight million litres of raw sewage a year get into the river, which eventually feeds into the lake.
“Raw sewage is a nutrient enhancement in the growth of aquatic weeds like water hyacinth.
“This plant leads to depletion of oxygen in water, which leads to the death of aquatic life,” Muusha said.
He also warned of a possible disease outbreak.
“The raw sewage disposal can result in the outbreak of water-borne diseases.
“The pollutants that are found in raw sewage also result in rising costs of potable water treatment,” Muusha said.
EMA has, for the second time, penalised the local authority for the discharge.
Masvingo city council’s response
Masvingo City Council mayor, Alderman Femius Chakabuda, blamed the problem on a leaking pipe that passes through Mushagashe River and power outages that halt pumping at their main sewer pump at Rujeko high-density suburb.
“There is a leaking pipe in Rujeko which runs across the river.
“The pipe can no longer be patched, so we have placed an order for a new one,” he said.
Chakabuda said he was “unfazed” by the penalties from EMA because the body can only survive by penalising local authorities.
“EMA will continue to raise funds through fines and some of the fines have nothing to do with emission. If EMA does not penalise local authorities, it will not survive,” said the MDC-T mayor.
If water hyacinth at the Lake is not controlled, the development would have a domino effect on the sugar supplies in the country.
Masvingo’s tourism potential would also be dented as Lake Mutirikwi is a tourist attraction.