Comment on Water Strategy

Written by  Tuesday, 25 November 2014 20:25
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While mining is an important contributor to the SA economy it is has the potential for significant negative impacts on the environment.  In South Africa the psychological dependence on the mining industry seems to extend beyond cost/benefit, a phenomenon evidenced in the metaphors used to describe the industry’s significance. The recently developed National Development Programme, however, does not state that mining investment and production is “urgent”, but rather that “[i]t is urgent to stimulate mining investment and production in a way that is environmentally sound…”.  

Comments on behalf of the Federation for Sustainable Environment (FSE) pursuant to the provincial multi-sectorial engagement workshop which was held in Rustenburg are available to download.  Here extracts follow.

The FSE submits that it is unfair and unpalatable that ordinary taxpayers, who have no connection whatsoever to the harm of contaminated water, and derived no benefit from it, will through the clean-up activities of the State, be compelled to pay for the treatment of acid mine water through increased water tariffs.
We call upon the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), in its implementation of the National Water Resource Strategy (NWR2), to diligently enforce Section 19 of the NWA, namely direct “an owner of land, a person in control of land or a person who occupies or uses the land…which causes, has caused or is likely to cause pollution of a water resources … to remedy the effects of the pollution.”
In terms of the Summary of Challenges in the WMA (Ref. DWS Business Case for the Limpopo CMA, September 2013) it was found that:
Water resources are nearly fully developed with all available water being highly utilized
Limited options for further resource development exists - attributable to the arid climate, unfavourable topography, sandy rivers as well as important conservation areas
Implementation of the Reserve is expected to result in serious deficits in some of the main river catchments
Planning has been made for large new mining developments for which additional water will be required
Urban and industrial growth will mainly be concentrated in areas where local water resources already are in short supply and need to be augmented by transfers from other WMAs
There are severe eutrophication problems at dams in the WMA.
Possibility for new power stations and/or petrochemical industries to be developed around the coalfields
Water pollution owing to large quantities of effluent discharged into the rivers in urban and industrial areas in the WMA.

While the right of the mining industry to sufficient water is prioritized, the right of the ecological reserve, tourism-, eco-tourism- and conservation sectors within the above-mentioned area to sufficient water is not afforded the same priority. It is the NWA’s purpose is to give effect to two types of constitutional rights that South Africans have. The first is their right to an environment sufficiently protected by legislative and other measures to secure socioeconomic development that is also ecologically sustainable while the second is their right to enough water to meet their basic needs.  
The Limpopo River Basin, already over-allocated by about 120%, has an extremely high Water Crowding Index (i.e. 2000 persons per flow unit per year), and is facing a 241% increase in demand by 2025, that is more than 2.5 times the global norm for social cohesion.
Minister’s Molewa’s Briefing to the PPC on Recommendations by the Business Processing Re-Engineering Committee on the 16 April 2013 stated that 52 villages in Limpopo had no water.

Another critical issue, besides the water challenges, is post-mining land use.  The extractive industry is by its very definition unsustainable since it depletes a non-renewable resource.  Mineral exploitation furthermore causes significant land use changes, generally irreversible destruction of ecosystems and loss in land capability.  
Tourism and eco-tourism, on the other hand, are sustainable land uses and provide opportunities for sustainable job creation and economic growth in the post closure phase of the mines but unless the extent of cumulative and regional mining-related impacts on inter alia water resources, sense of place, biodiversity, air quality and soil within the Pilanesberg Area are factored in, in the approval of new mining rights and authorisation of environmental impact assessments and environmental management programmes, sustainable land use with associated water use in the post mine closure scenario will not be possible.  The outcomes will result in economic and job stagnation, which will worsen poverty, and which will result in social decay.

In the National Assembly’s written reply to Question No 17158, we were informed that the Department of Water Affairs authorised three (3) river pans, ten (10) wetlands and forty one (41) rivers to be mined since the 1st of January 2004.  
Some of the rivers fall within areas of critical biodiversity such as national parks and national freshwater eco-system priority areas (NFEPA).  With over half of South Africa’s river and wetland ecosystems types considered threatened in the National Biodiversity Assessment 2011, mining in particular poses high levels of threat to freshwater ecosystems since mining has a profound often irreversible impact on ecosystems. This widespread degradation of freshwater ecosystems compromises ecosystem service delivery and results in costly management interventions and the loss of resilience to changing circumstances, including climate change.
We call upon the DWS to give urgent attention in the implementation of the NWRS-2 in order to ensure that mining is not authorized in NFEPA and areas of critical biodiversity.  Keeping these rivers and wetlands in the catchments in a natural or good condition serves a dual purpose of conserving South Africa’s freshwater biodiversity, while promoting the sustainable use of water resources in the catchment.
The FSE calls upon the DWS to, in the implementation of the NWRS-2 to, with reference to the cost/benefit analysis, consider the costs associated with the life-time of the impacts and not only the costs associated with the impacts during the life-time of the mine, since the impacts may continue for hundreds of years after mine closure.  In the absence of government interventions to compel mining companies to internalize their negative impacts, the social and environmental costs will be absorbed by the surrounding communities and other stakeholders.  The externalization of costs to communities, particularly to the poor and disadvantaged, is conceived as unfair, inequitable and unpalatable, and in contravention of the polluter pays principle.

Water Forums are voluntary initiatives with no decision-making power.  Civil society and NGOs, since they are not reimbursed for expenses incurred in participation in these Forums, including opportunity costs, have difficulty to justify their participation.  The result is civil society apathy.  
In South Africa, the representatives of the industry, including the mining industry, have greater capacity to negotiate and influence decision-making pertaining to water needs than NGOs and civil society groups with financial, technical and human resource constraints.  Greater care needs to be taken to ensure environmental justice through stakeholder engagement processes. In addition, it is problematic to assume that all stakeholders can be engaged and informed in a uniform way. Stakeholders vary widely in their ability to understand and adopt governance processes or instruments that they are not familiar with and therefore an ideal governance system needs to ensure that the participation of stakeholders at all levels is carefully balanced and integrated. 

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‘People the same as pigs’ in the VaalBy Sheree Bega | 16 Oct 2020 Foul: Pigs root in sludge in Emfuleni municipality. (Photos: Delwyn Verasamy/M&G) Clutching her one-year-old son, Monica Ndakisa jumps onto a brick to avoid the sewage that runs like a dark stain across the passage in her home.  “We’ve lived like this for years,” she says pointing to one of the culprits: her blocked toilet, which causes sewage to pool into nearly every room of her home in Sebokeng hostel in the Vaal. “The smell is too terrible.” It’s worse outside. Her small garden is submerged in a sickly, grey sewage swamp. To stop the human waste from seeping inside, Ndakisa has built a concrete barrier at her front door. But it’s futile. “My five-year-old son was in the hospital for two weeks with severe eczema and they told me it’s because of all this sewage. It makes us cough all the time. It’s so depressing to live like this.” Samson Mokoena, of the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (Veja), shakes his head. “It’s chaos. You can’t allow people to live in such conditions. The government is playing with our people.” Ndakisa’s neighbour, Maphelo Apleni, has used pipes to divert the stream of sewage from his garden. “It never stops,” he says grimly. “We have a municipality [Emfuleni] that doesn’t care about us.” Mziwekaya Mokwana points at a sewage-filled furrow clogged with litter where pigs are feeding. “This is no better life,” he says. “People are the same as pigs here.” Sewage in Vaal River system  Last month, the human settlements, water and sanitation department said it would take at least another three years to minimise and eventually stop the sewage flowing into the Vaal River system. In a recent presentation, it states how “design treatment capacity is at its limit, housing development investments are delayed and there are negative environmental and health impacts”. Ageing infrastructure is to blame for sewage spillages, coupled “with a lack of operation and maintenance investment” as well as theft and vandalism.  It will cost about R2.2-billion “to have a sustainable impact on the Vaal River catchment within Emfuleni local municipality”. The department’s plan aims to safeguard infrastructure; repair the bulk network to eliminate spillages, key and critical pump stations and rising mains; refurbish wastewater treatment works “in an attempt to comply with discharge licence conditions”; and achieve operation and maintenance requirements. But Maureen Stewart, the vice-chairperson of Save the Vaal (Save) is sceptical. She says there is no political will to tackle the crisis. “These problems go back over 12 yearsand reached crisis proportions when the system collapsed in 2018. The result is some 200 million litres of raw or partially treated sewage entering the Vaal River and its tributaries daily.” Stewart warns that it’s an ecological disaster that also affects agriculture and has serious health implications for people living above and below the Vaal Barrage Reservoir, which is 64km long and used to supply Johannesburg with water but is now too polluted to do so.   She says the Emfuleni municipality has been under Gauteng’s administration since mid-2018 and, despite promises, the status quo remains — unbridled sewage pollution of the Vaal River and Emfuleni.  “The Ekurhuleni Water Care Company (Erwat) was appointed to take over in 2019 and were given funding and spent R179-million. Their contribution was to unblock pipes and remove 50 tons of rubbish from the system. This opened the pipes but, as the pump stations and the three wastewater treatment plants remain dysfunctional, there has been no improvement. Raw sewage continues to flow into the Vaal River and into the streets of Emfuleni.”  Monica Ndakisa sweeps overspill from her toilet. There was a “glimmer of hope” when Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, visited the Vaal in January this year, assuring Save that action will be taken and that funds are earmarked in the 2020-2021 budget.  “It seems her enthusiasm has not filtered down to her department,” says Stewart. “After Erwat’s contract was not renewed, the department stated they would undertake the repairs by appointing their own contractors. 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The total investment by the department in 2020/21 financial year is R1.2-billion in the Vaal; this includes the building of additional wastewater treatment capacity and associated pump stations.” Maphelo Apleni installs pipes to drain sewage out of his garden. Before the end of the financial year Module 6 in Sebokeng water care works will be launched, “subject to no community unrest disrupting construction”. The department, Ratau says, has to take all necessary precautions to ensure that section 217 of the constitution is followed as far as procurement is concerned.  “Thus the departmental checks and balances had to be followed to the letter to ensure compliance with procurement processes. This unfortunately caused delays but was necessary.” Within the next month the department aims to advertise for all the contractors “that can assist in this challenge”. Ratau says commitment dates, including start and completion dates, “will be sent not only to Save but all interested stakeholders once the contractors are appointed. The department cannot preempt this before the appointments are made.” He says that R7-billion is required to “solve the pollution challenge in ELM. This needs to be coupled with operations and maintenance, which is a function of ELM at local government level”. Save is once again taking the government to court to enforce legislation to ensure infrastructure is repaired within phased completion dates and that sufficient funds are made available for ongoing maintenance and operation of the system by the municipality, supervised by the high court.   Veja’s Mokoena is glad the department is taking over the Vaal clean-up. “This situation was supposed to be fixed a long time ago. So much money has been squandered at the municipal level.” Rand Water’s delay Eight months. That’s how long it took Rand Water to release public water quality records for the Vaal Barrage system to a team of aquatic specialists investigating the ecological health of the river system.  In January, Aquatic Ecosystems of Africa submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) application to Rand Water for access to its water quality analysis data for the Vaal Barrage and downstream since 2015.  Nothing happened, it says, until Tshepang Sebulela, the Paia compliance officer from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) intervened late last month.  New pipelines are being installed in the Vaal. In an email to Rand Water, Sebulela noted how the multiple requests for records by Aquatic Ecosystems and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment have allegedly been ignored, which in terms of Paia are deemed refusals.  “The SAHRC is greatly concerned by a large number of public institutions who provide such important services to the public who refuse to meet their basic legislative obligations,” he wrote. The records landed in the firm’s inbox on 2 October.  Aquatic Systems’ Simone Liefferink says sourcing surface water system data is becoming increasingly difficult. “It’s disturbing the data is not adequately managed, readily accessible to the public and private sectors who pay tax and other water charges for effective catchment management to be implemented.”  Rand Water did not explain the reason behind the delay.  That the information was provided in a PDF format of almost 2 000 pages “frustrates and delays” its interpretation, says Liefferink.  She and her partner, Russell Tate, began their investigation after a major fish kill in the Vaal River in mid-2018. That September they testified at the HRC’s inquiry into the contamination of the Vaal River that high levels of ammonia from the wastewater treatment works was wiping out life in the river system. A snap-shot analysis of the data provided by Rand Water shows high levels of E coli, ammonium and ammonia — key indicators of sewage pollution. Average E coli counts soared from 12 705 colony-forming units per 100ml in 2010 to more than 107 000 in 2018 and 66 923 in 2020.  “The contributing factor is clear — dysfunctional sewage treatment conveyances and treatment plants. More disturbing is the long-standing deterioration of the system that ever increases the loss of biodiversity and other essential ecological functions and human services. Yet this matter is still not treated with extreme urgency,” says Liefferink. HRC’s long-awaited report It’s taken nearly two years for the Human Rights Commission to release its report into the Emfuleni sewage crisis. “Their report has not yet been taken to parliament, nor has it been published. Why?” asks Save’s Stewart. 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