Marius Keet. the chief director of mine water management at the Department of Water and Sanitation, said its long-term solution to AMO would create waterfor commercial use.
AMD refers to the flow of polluted. water from old mining areas. "We are going to take the water from the three mining basins, central; eastern and western, which is being pumped and partially treated now, to treat it further with reverse osmosis to a level where we can sell it as potable or industrial water," said Keet.
"I know there needs to be a paradigm shift and a mind shift that you can't drink AMD.
"But when we put it in the Rand Water system, you won't even recognise the difference ...I would rather drink that water than the water purified or treated by the sewage works," quipped Keet.
"We have started a process with the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority, we have engaged with Rand Water, Joburg Water and Ekurhuleni as well as Sasol so there are potentially off takers who will dictate the terms of the quality - it all depends on cost and the quality you need for specific purposes."
Next month; he said, "someone will start with the design to implement the long-term solution, which we hope will be fully operational by 2021".
The challenge was the high cost of reverse osmosis or desalination technology and the number of plants required.
"We will have between 150 and 200 million litres a day that we can put into the network for usage."
Keet said there were 1 654 operational mines, "which shows you this big monster we're dealing with," and 2 787 closed mines.
Of these 518 had water use licences while 1 100 did not, "but this figure doesn't say all the mines need licences. We are working hard on the backlog.
But it shows you there's still a lot of work to do".
The department, he said, had tried to pursue historic mining owners to ensure the retrospective application of the "polluters must pay" principle, but "it's just not possible."
Keet said instead , the department wanted to focus on compliance by operating mines.
"If a mine starts mining. it must rake responsibility."
Mariette Liefferink, an environmental activist, said the Council for Geoscience held a complete database of these historic mines.
"Most of the last men standing, the mining firms today, consider it unpalatable and inequitable that they should be responsible for pollution caused over 130 years ago by other mining companies."
Peter Lukey, a senior official at the Department of Environmental Affairs, agreed that "finding the people to bust is hugely problematic".
"There are over 1 000 mines operating, and are they all in compliance?
"I would suggest a couple of enforcement actions because we know who exactly is doing the polluting, .. Lukey said.