Illegal gold panning has caused siltation of dams that supply water to the City of Bulawayo, resulting in the local authority incurring a high bill in purifying water for drinking purposes, a senior Bulawayo City Council (BCC) official has said.
BCC deputy director of engineering, Ian Mthunzi last week said illegal panning near city dams was posing a serious challenge to the local authority.
"The amakorokozas [illegal gold panners] are causing a lot of problems to our supply dams. When these illegal panners are digging up everywhere, they create pits and loose soils that are washed away by rainfall into our dams," said Mthunzi. "This means the capacity of the dams is reduced due to siltation."
Mthunzi said the city council ended up using a lot of chemicals to purify the polluted water.
"When water is dirty, it means we are going to use more chemicals to purify it. It is more expensive to purify water that would be coming from those silted dams. When the water is clean, we use fewer and less chemicals to purify it," he said.
The deputy director said the most affected were Upper and Lower Ncema and Umzingwane dams.
He said BCC would soon engage the police and Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to deal with the problem.
Some unlicensed mining companies have also come under fire for causing siltation of dams through poor mining methods.
Last year, EMA ordered companies that had caused massive land degradation along the Mzingwane River in Matabeleland South to rehabilitate it.
The river had been heavily polluted by uncontrolled and poor mining activities, allegedly carried out by Chinese companies that reportedly mined without getting the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) certificates.
Several irrigation schemes in the semi-arid province have collapsed due to siltation of the rivers and major dams like Zhobe and Silalabuhwa.
Dangerous chemicals, which are used in mining, find their way into rivers and dams that supply major towns like Beitbridge, West Nicholson and Colleen Bawn with water.
Dam levels have significantly risen in the past few weeks due to the heavy rains that have been falling in most parts of the region.