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. Continue reading

Water Affairs happy with AMD recommendations

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 24 January 2011

The Department of Water Affairs says it is doing everything possible to control the acid mine drainage (AMD) problem that has recently been made worse by heavy rains.

Government acknowledges that amd needs to be urgently addressed

The department’s inter-ministerial committee, which was formed to address the problem last year, – will hand over a report to the cabinet in the next two weeks.

“We are on top of the acid mine drainage problem. We appointed a team of experts to compile a report. They have handed the report to us and we are happy with their findings and recommendations,” said the inter-ministerial committee spokesperson, Makhosini Nyathi.

AMD is a chemical reaction process that is a result of sulphate-bearing minerals or pyrite, found predominantly in gold mines, as well as in coal mines, being exposed to oxygen and water.

Nyathi said government acknowledged that AMD was a challenge that needed to be addressed urgently. “This should be done in a coordinated manner between a range of stakeholders that include the mining industry and government,” said Nyathi.

National Water Forum chairman Louis Meintjies said the problem with the contamination of water was not only due to AMD – but also with raw sewage getting into the water system.

“The past heavy rains have caused raw sewage from our treatment plants to overflow and get into our dams. The damage has been done – we need to urgently address this problem,” said Meintjies. Continue reading

Johannesburg farms at risk from tailings dams

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 08 December 2010

Tailings Dams are holding millions of tonnes of dangerous metals and leading to severe damage to farms in the Johannesburg area.

Gold mines constitute the largest single source of waste and pollution in South Africa

That’s according to Mariette Liefferink, from the Federation for a Sustainable Environment who showed Business Day around the West Rand and outlined some of the major environmental challenges.

Liefferink says acid mine drainage is exacerbating the problem, because it dissolves the heavy metals and precipitated them in water sources and wetlands, where people grow crops and abstract water.

She says the Lancaster dam in Krugersdorp, which is surrounded by tailings dams, is the source of the Wonderfonteinspruit.

The stream is now filled with acid mine water and its wetlands had been classified as the radiological hotspot by the by the Nuclear Regulator.

“Lancaster dam historically was indeed the source of the most pristine water. It was classified by a 1934 German documentary as one of the seven wonders of South Africa. Today as you can see it is filled with acid water. The Lancaster dam is filled with water of a PH of about 2, 6. It is similar to lemon juice. There is absolutely no life,” she added.

“It is as a result of 120 years of mining and obviously very poor management of wastes from the gold mines. The gold mines generate the most cost of the socio-economic impact and also ecological impact. The gold mines generate 47% of the mineral wastes.”

“Waste from gold mines constitutes the largest single source of waste and pollution in South Africa… Acid mine drainage may continue for many years after mines are closed and tailings dams decommissioned,” Liefferink said. Continue reading

Johannesburg CBD threatened by rising acidic water

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 21 July 2010

Millions of litres of highly acidic mine water is rising up under Johannesburg and, if left unchecked, could spill out into its streets some 18 months from now, Parliament’s water affairs portfolio committee hears.

The last working mine still pumping out water in the Eastern Basin was Grootvlei

The acid water is currently about 600 metres below the city’s surface, but is rising at a rate of between 0.6 and 0.9 metres a day, water affairs deputy director water quality management Marius Keet told MPs.

“[It] can have catastrophic consequences for the Johannesburg central business district if not stopped in time. A new pumping station and upgrades to the high-density sludge treatment works are urgently required to stop disaster,” he warned.

Speaking at the briefing, activist Mariette Liefferink, from the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said the rising mine water posed an “enormous threat”, which would become worse if remedial actions were further delayed.

“This environmental problem is second [in South Africa] only to global warming in terms of its impact, and poses a serious risk to the Witwatersrand as a whole. At the rate it is rising, the basin [under Johannesburg] will be fully flooded in about 18 months”

She said the rising mine water had the same acidity as vinegar or lemon juice, and was a legacy of 120 years of gold mining in the region.

Acid water is formed underground when old shafts and tunnels fill up. The water oxidises with the sulphide mineral iron pyrite, better known as fool’s gold. The water then fills the mine and starts decanting into the environment, in a process known as acid mine drainage.

Keet said the problem was not just confined to Johannesburg, which is located atop one of several major mining “basins” in the Witwatersrand, known as the Central Basin. Continue reading