Lake Chivero, Zimbabwe

Lake Locations:

Zimbabwe -

Also known as:  Chivero Reservoir, Lake McIlwaine, McIlwaine Reservoir

The Lake Chivero reservoir serves as the main water supply for Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare. Although only half a century old, Lake Chivero has already become a vital part of the fabric of everyday life in northeastern Zimbabwe. Not only is the nearly 6500-acre reservoir used for drinking water and irrigation, a booming fishing industry brings tourists to the many resort properties that have sprung up along the lakeshore. Although most visiting anglers seek primarily tiger fish, the lake also holds grass carp, black bream, clarius garicpinus (a species of air-breathing catfish), yellow fish (exactly what species this is isn’t clear), green-headed bream, robustus, barbel, Hunyani salmon, aquilla, oreochomus niloticus and nebulosa. All are caught commercially and are a major part of the local diet. A number of fishing resorts along the shore rent boats and offer guided fishing trips. Non-fishermen in the party take advantage of the tours into Lake Chivero Recreational Park.

An environmental protection feature built as a buffer zone to prevent sedimentation of the reservoir, 4,600-acre Lake Chivero Recreational Park is a designated part of the larger Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Estate, the country’s system of wildlife reserves. Opened in 1962, much of the game was brought into the park from Hwange National Park and as part of a rescue operation from the Lake Kariba region. A number of lodges and resorts serve the Recreational Park, offering fishing, hiking, horseback tours, driving tours and pleasure boating. Boats are available for rent from several lakeside concessions. Easily sited on the guided tours are giraffe, zebra, white rhino, kudu, wildebeest, waterbuck, tsessebe, eland, ostrich, sable, baboon, monkey, duiker, warthog, bush pig, rock hyrax, scrub hare, spring hare, bush squirrel and others. Guided night tours offer the opportunity to observe a variety of nocturnal animals that include civet, genet, black-backed jackal, porcupine, slender white tailed mongoose, caracal, pangolin, ant bear, serval, bush baby and night ape.

Several bird species can be seen in Lake Chivero Recreational Park. Among them are kingfisher, grey heron, barbets, bee-eaters, African open bills, cormorants, doves, Goliath heron, hamerkops, jacanas, coots, darter, buzzards, fish eagle, lilac-breasted roller and glossy starling. There are several rock painting sites in the park, including one at Bushman’s Point which is readily accessible via a short walk. The park is divided into two branches, called the North and South Bank. The Msasa caravan and camping site is located at North Bank which is about 18 miles from Harare. Botanical gardens near the dam area are very popular with visitors. A number of yacht clubs and sailing clubs are scattered along the shoreline, most of which offer guest facilities, and a public mooring site is managed by the Recreational Park.

Lodgings are plentiful at Lake Chivero and are offered with a wide range of amenities. Several are self-catering bungalows, while others are more formal lodges, with pools, WiFi and other ‘big-city’ amenities. Because of the current political situation, those wishing to visit should only travel with well-recognized and experienced tour guidance and likely not strike out on their own.

In the 1970s and 1080s, Lake Chivero began to suffer from eutrophication and diminished water quality. A coordinated and concerted effort to provide more protection for the lake made major strides toward cleaning the water and clearing algae. The effort was a resounding success; the lake returned to a stable and relatively clean state. Now, Lake Chivero faces an even bigger threat – one that is more difficult to correct because of changes in the government structure and lack of dedicated funding to solve the problems. Following independence from the United Kingdom in 1980, inexperience in self-government and bitter infighting have exacerbated the problems seen previously to a much greater degree. An unstable government has made it difficult for resort businesses to operate, reducing tourist visits and their much-needed dollars. Land redistribution schemes have displaced many former businesses and leaders, who took with them their educated understanding of the issues and their access to possible solutions. Lack of regulatory oversight under the current government resulted in the deaths of 11 children on a holiday boat tour of the lake in December 2011.

The story of Lake Chivero, Zimbabwe, then, is one of great promise and great tragedy. The reservoir was created in 1952 when the Hunyanipoort Dam was built across the Hunyani River to serve as water supply to the capital city, Harare. Originally named Lake McIlwaine in memory of Sir Robert McIlwaine who founded Zimbabwe’s soil and water conservation movement, the lake was renamed when British colonial rule ended and the former Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. When the reservoir was built, Harare had a population of only 400,000 people and an adequate, well-run sewage treatment system. The urban population has since exploded to over 1.6 million people in the watershed. At the same time, revenues for sewer projects and maintenance, governmental administration, and organized cooperation between stakeholders has vanished.

Lake Chivero has borne the brunt of such disorganization, with multiple sources of pollution flowing unchecked into the once-pristine waters. So much water has been drawn from inflowing streams that there is little fresh water to dilute run-off and sewage much of the year, so the concentrations of toxins continues to grow. Health authorities worst fears were recognized a few years ago when cholera, previously nearly eradicated, began to fell hundreds of city dwellers. Currently the problem is ongoing: international aid organizations are attempting to provide relief and mitigation, but the government of Robert Mugabe has not been very cooperative. The good news is that there is already a pattern and track record of improving the water quality in Lake Chivero as was done in the 1980s. It can be done again, with good governance. Only time will tell when the healing will begin.

Things to do at Lake Chivero

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Lake Chivero

  • Barbel
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Darter
  • Grass Carp
  • Perch
  • Salmon
  • Tiger Fish

Lake Chivero Photo Gallery

Lake Chivero Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Surface Area: 6,425 acres

Shoreline Length: 46 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,474 feet

Average Depth: 31 feet

Maximum Depth: 90 feet

Water Volume: 202,678 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1952

Trophic State: Euutrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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