AMD to be pumped only in 2012

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 23 February 2011

The government plans to set up a chain of pumping stations and treatment plants to prevent toxic liquids that are building up in defunct gold mines beneath Johannesburg from reaching dangerous levels.

Acid mine water overflowing from an old mine shaft on the Black Reef Incline, near Rand Uranium's treatment pond, 30 January 2010. Photo under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 licence.

The costs will be made known in Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s national Budget today. But the government insists that the clock is not ticking as acidic mine water is expected to reach environmentally critical levels under Johannesburg only by June 2012, according to government officials and scientists at a briefing yesterday.

The cabinet also agreed that “further work needs to be done” to investigate the possibility of an environmental levy – to be spent on restoring the environment in mined areas – for consideration by the cabinet.

Water has already leaked from old mines west of Johannesburg in the “western basin”.

“Work in the western basin is immediate,” Thibedi Ramontja, the chief executive of the Council for Geoscience, said after the briefing.

Federation for a Sustainable Environment chief executive Mariette Liefferink said yesterday that while it was heartening for the government to acknowledge the threat of acid mine drainage, pumping the poisonous water only in March 2012 was a reactive measure.

She has opposed the inter-ministerial committee’s claim that there is no contamination of underground water in the western basin, and has called for the government to give time frames for short-, medium- and long-term action to be taken against the underground water.

“To pump water in 2012 is crisis management, the government should have taken measures against acid mine drainage back in 1996, when they were first alerted to the problem. Since the rainy season in December, there has been 2.7 billion litres of acid mine drainage discharged into the river system. We hope that the government will engage with civil society, water end users and mining companies which have to pay for the treatment of the water.”

The much-awaited report by a team of experts – driven by the Department of Water Affairs – would be released only tomorrow, it was announced at yesterday post-cabinet briefing. It would appear on the department’s website. It was completed in August last year but has been ranked “top secret”, according to officials.

A group of environmental lobbyists demanded in terms of access to information legislation that the report be released by today, arguing that it was their constitutional right to gain access to the information, which could affect hundreds of thousands of people in Gauteng, as well as Mpumalanga. They included the Centre for Environmental Rights, Earthlife Africa and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment.

However, at the briefing chaired by new communications boss Jimmy Manyi, it was reported that the cabinet had last week approved the recommendations made by a team of experts to an inter-ministerial committee tasked to investigate solutions to the problem.

Among their recommendations were that water quality neutralisation and metal removal should be improved “in the short term” and that there should be removal of salt loads from river systems in the medium to long term. Some of the bigger pumping operations would go out to tender.

Water Affairs chief operations officer Trevor Balzer reported that pumping was likely to start in earnest in March next year. Questioned why this process would begin only then – after some experts predicted decanting would happen in earnest from February – he said the experts believed the acid drainage levels would only be at an environmentally sensitive level by June next year.

Minister in the Presidency for National Planning Trevor Manuel, one of the members of the inter-ministerial committee who has long made light of the dangers of acid mine drainage, said there was no need for panic.

His colleague, Deputy Water Affairs Minister Godfrey Oliphant, insisted that there had been “constant monitoring” even before the report by a team of experts was completed.

Independent studies show water is rising by 15m a month.

Manuel said in the eastern basin water was at 700m below the surface, while in the central basin it was 500m below – still at relatively safe levels. But he acknowledged that the western basin was more problematic. It was here that “neutralisation” would start.

Oliphant ducked questions about how mining firms at disused mines would be tracked down, indicating instead that there had been “good co-operation” from the mining entities. Neither Manuel nor Oliphant responded to a question about whether drinking water in Gauteng had been affected by the effluent.

By: Donwald Pressly additional reporting by Dineo Matomela
Source: iol BusinessReport

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