Homes to share acid mine water costs

Written by  Karl Gernetzky - BDLive Thursday, 19 May 2016 17:10
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THE Department of Water Affairs has finally provided clarity on how it will fund the treatment of contaminated water seeping out of old mining networks in Gauteng.

The long-term solution to the problem of acid-mine drainage will see end users, including households in the province, bearing a third of the cost, while mining companies will ultimately fund the rest of the cost.

 

The cost of constructing the necessary treatment facilities was estimated at between R10bn and R12bn, Minister for Water Affairs and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane said on Wednesday.

Mining companies will pay for 67% of the cost through a proposed environmental levy based on a "polluter pays" principle.

The project would augment the supply of safe and potable water, Mokonyane said at the launch of the project in Germiston.

Construction of plants that will further treat polluted water in the province is expected to begin in 2018, with the Treasury agreeing to contribute R600m per year to the project in expectation of the recovery of funds collected from the mining sector.

The cost to the consumer was fair, Mokonyane said, considering that improvements would be made to the province’s water supply, already a cost factor in an increasingly water-scarce province.

The acid mine drainage issue in Gauteng is a more than century-old problem that has seen water polluted with heavy metals rising to the surface through historic mine workings in and around the Witwatersrand Basin, which continues to pose a serious threat to existing underground water reserves.

In 2011, as a short-term solution, the Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority was tasked with pumping polluted water into three regional treatment facilities, partly treating it, and then pumping it back into the river system so that it was diluted with fresh water. This has been sufficient only to keep down the levels of underground polluted water so that it does not breach the surface.

The running costs of the facilities across the three basins in Gauteng was estimated at R25m per month, the authority’s CEO James Ndlovu said on Wednesday

The long-term solution will ultimately be to desalinate the water so that it can be used directly by industry and consumers.

An environmental impact assessment will be completed by June 2017, and the new plants are expected to begin to operate in early 2020.

The cost structure developed had been made in consideration of the importance of mining to SA’s economy, the minister said.

"Nothing is going to apply retrospectively; we are not on a witch-hunt," she said.

"Our regulatory environment has to be tightened, so that the polluter-pay principle is implemented."

Foundation for a Sustainable Environment CEO Mariette Liefferink said yesterday the foundation was "heartened" by the manner in which the department had taken up the issue. "However, we are still concerned regarding certain challenges, for example, the apportionment of liability. To hold only the last man standing liable and responsible for 130 years of mining may be inequitable and unpalatable," she said.

The Chamber of Mines said the proposed environmental levy and new infrastructure could cost more than had been proposed by the chamber. Treatment of water that was already pumped from mines on a cost-recovery basis, would not require new infrastructure, the chamber said.

 

With Charlotte Mathews

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SA NEWS

Lauded for research on SA acid mine drainage

The launch of Acid mine drainage in South Africa: Development actors, policy impacts and broader implications, by Suvania Naidoo, took place on 10 February 2017. The book has proven to be a timely publication because of the incipient water crisis in South Africa. The event was hosted by Unisa’s Department of Development Studies in the College of Human Sciences. The guests were welcomed by the chair of the department, Prof Gretchen du Plessis, who expressed that “development studies is an ever-changing discipline and is a space where different issues converge”. She further stated that the book fills a void in our knowledge about acid mine drainage (AMD) and that the publication is “an example of hard work which results in big achievements”.   This publication is the culmination of the findings of the research conducted for Naidoo’s master’s dissertation. The book focuses on assessing the responses of the various development actors involved in addressing the issues of AMD, and its socio-economic and developmental implications. Prof Dirk Kotzé, from the Department of Political Sciences at Unisa and programme director for the event, said that AMD research is generally analysed from highly technical, engineering, and natural science perspectives. He also said that the purpose of the publication was to identify and explain the different conceptual understandings of AMD and its implications. Kotzé acclaimed the publication as being one of the few cases where a social science approach successfully ventures into the domain of the natural sciences.   Naidoo uses sustainable development and, specifically, environmental sustainability as the departure for this research, which is directly linked to water and food security. She said the book concentrates on AMD as “a phenomenon in water management in South Africa and its potential impact on sustainable development, as well as mining and the quality of water in South Africa and the impacts of AMD”.   She emphasised that one of the most important contributions of her research is conceptual in nature and said “the manner in which AMD is defined determines how it is assessed as a water management, environmental, and social problem. It also means that the response to AMD is determined by how it is defined by government”. Naidoo highlighted that, while the South African government has made strong and valuable attempts to address the issues surrounding AMD, the conclusions of her research showed that there was no clear indication in policy as to what the socio-economic impacts caused by AMD are, and how they should be responded to.   Keynote speaker, Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, and a leading activist in this field, provided a detailed account of the historic and contemporary context of AMD. She alerted the audience to a significant fact that AMD dates as far back as 1903. She used a more current example to illustrate the impact of AMD on South Africa’s water systems by explaining how the problem of AMD in the West Rand Basin, Gauteng, was left untreated for almost 10 years. She said the immediate short-term treatment of AMD only commenced in 2012 and said that a feasibility study for the long-term treatment of this phenomenon was conducted in 2013 at a cost of R25m. Liefferink said that the long-term treatment plan for AMD was launched on 18 May 2016 but would only be implemented by 2020. She warned that this might have a significant impact on water security. She stressed that academics who employ their research for the benefit of society should be applauded and endorsed Naidoo’s publication as having a definite economic and social value impact.   Zachary Romano, editor at Springer, New York, via a pre-recorded video, said: “Suvania’s research was a perfect candidate for our SpringerBriefs edition, in Earth Sciences, Geography and Environment at Springer Nature. This series is targeted at publishing interdisciplinary case-studies that speaks to larger issues, particularly from young researchers with promising careers. As South Africa’s water systems are under much stress from climate change and pollution already, this is a timely document and we are confident that many academics and professionals will find it to be a great resource”. He also said that the book proposal was reviewed by several leaders in the field, all of whom were impressed by the final product. He further mentioned that the publisher is looking forward to future collaborative work with Naidoo.   The event was extremely well-attended by key stakeholders and experts in this field.

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