The falls consists of a series of rapids dropping 900 feet in 220 miles (270 meters in 350 kilometers). It ends in Matadi in Kongo Central. The Congo River has the second largest flow rate in the world after the River Amazon, which has no falls or rapids (except near its sources). The lowest rapids of the Livingstone Falls therefore are the world's largest waterfall in terms of flow rate, provided one accepts rapids as being a waterfall. An interesting aspect of the 220 mile long Livingstone Falls is the width of the channel. The channel is very narrow, in several stretches the channel width is less than 300 meters and for the majority of the length the channel is less than 800 meters wide. This is an amazingly narrow channel considering the fact that the river flow rate is typically exceeding 42,000 cumec.
Inga Falls is a group of rapids (or cataracts) in the latter portion of the Livingstone Falls; the Congo River falls ~96 meters within this set of cataracts. The mean annual flow rate of the Congo River at Inga Falls is ~42,000 cumecs. Given this flow rate and the 96 meter fall it is easy to calculate that the Inga Falls alone has a potential to generate ~39.6 Giga-Watts of mechanical energy and nearly as much electrical energy.
Inga "Falls" is currently the site of two large hydro power plants and is being considered for a much larger hydro power generating station known as Grand Inga. The Grand Inga project, if completed, would be the largest hydro-electric power generating facility on Earth. The current project scope calls for the use of a flow rate ~26,400 cumecs at a net head of ~150 meters; this is equivalent to a generating capacity of ~38.9 Giga-Watts. This hydro-electric generator would be more than double the current world record holder, which is the Three Gorges facility on the Yangtze River in China.
Grand Inga is slated as a quasi “Run of the River” hydro project in which a “small” reservoir will be created backing the river so that the net head for the hydro turbines will approach 150 meters. One is inclined to wonder why the design could not be more environmentally friendly by simply more aggressively using the run of the river concept. The approach one might take is to use is a larger flow volume with lower head so that the reservoir size could be minimized and yet the available energy would be nearly as large. For example at 100 meters of head and a flow usage of 40,000 cumecs the available energy is ~39 Giga-Watts. Note that 102 meters of head is available over a straight line distance of ~15km from just upstream of the Inga Falls, at Sikila Island, to just below the Inga Falls where the river turns hard to the South.
As the debate over the Grand Inga project heats up such an approach may become more palatable. Though he explored the upper Congo, David Livingstone never travelled to this part of the river, the falls were named in his honour by Henry Morton Stanley.
Since the falls are a barrier to navigation on the lower part of the river, the Matadi-Kinshasa Railway railway was constructed to by-pass them.
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