Gold panners in Umzingwane district in Matabeleland South have been accused of diverting water from Umzingwane Dam catchment areas to their illegal mining activities.
Umzingwane dam is one of the six major dams which supplly the city of Bulawayo with water.
A large proportion of the catchment areas for the dams falls within Umzingwane district where alluvial gold panning activities take place on the riverbeds and banks.
Villagers who spoke to NewZimbabwe.com confirmed the illegal activities by the panners.
"Amakorokoza are diverting water from Umzingwane dam catchment areas to their mining activities.
"They use the water to pan for gold. Less water is now going to Umzingwane dam because of these illegal activities," said Caleb Zondo a farmer in the area.
Zondo said the diverting of water from the catchment areas was contributing to the low water statistical inflows in the city's dams despite heavy rains which have been pounding the country.
According to Bulawayo City Council's latest statistics, the city's dams are now 65,6 percent full, compared to the same period last year where the dams were 34,6 percent full with Umzingwane having been decommissioned.
Matabeleland South Environmental Management Agency (EMA) provincial Manager Decent Ndlovu confirmed the development.
"Last Friday, I tasked officials to attend the scene but the gold panners ran away, which is an indication that they know what they are doing is wrong.
"We raised this issue with the Parks Section of the Bulawayo City Council as this involves one of their catchment areas and they noted this is a recurring problem. We will also vigorously engage with police from Hillside Police Station," said Ndlovu.
Bulawayo Mayor Councillor Solomon Mguni also confirmed the gold panners illegal activities.
"We heard that panners have been diverting water from the catchment areas around Umzingwane. This is not something new and it is quite worrying.
"We have done similar operations before to close in on the panners, where our rangers work in conjunction with the police," said Mguni.
The mayor said council will continue with efforts to stop the gold panners from causing further damage.
"The effects of panning are worrying as we aware the panners also use mercury that contaminates the water," he said.