Govt vows to solve acid mine water crisis

The Department of Water Affairs says it is committed to solving the country’s acid mine water crisis. Farmers in Mpumalanga have issued a warning that polluted water could lead to food shortages. Now an upgraded treatment plant is to be opened in Gauteng but the government concedes more needs to be done.

The yucky water is the foul legacy of years of mining on the West Rand. The water has been polluted with toxic or radioactive metals. There is only one treatment plant in Gauteng.

Around 12-million litres of polluted water passes through the plant daily. That’s enough to fill 240 swimming pools. But more than three times that pours into Gauteng’s rivers every single day.

Some experts say this is too little too late

The government is spending millions to double the capacity of the plant. Two more are needed in Gauteng. Government’s plan to deal with acid mine water will cost around R1-billion. That is far more than the R433 million allocated. The Minister says plants like this are a short-term fix.

“The critical thing is that decanting must not happen in all other remaining basins including the western and central basins and Mpumlanaga. While we are looking for long-term solutions,” says Minister of Water Affairs, Edna Molewa.

Some experts say this is too little, too late. They also complain that the current plant is does not treat the water properly and that high levels of [sulphate] remain. “We have raised concerns that by 2015 the Vaal River will be in deficit because of the salinity of the water. Currently, plants only neutralise the water it does not de-salinate the water,” explained Federation for a Sustainable Environment CEO, Mariette Liefferink.

The government says it is determined to solve the crisis. But all South Africans need to contribute to finding a long-term answer.

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