As Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa unveiled a new multi-million rand acid mine drainage treatment plant yesterday, a few kilometres away of a torrent of untreated toxic water was gushing uncontrollably into an already blighted river system.
Two weeks of heavy rainfall has caused 30-million litres of drainage to once again decant from the flooded Western mining basin in Krugersdorp and pour into the Tweelopiespruit.
And this is just as signs of life, including invertebrates and insects, had started to return to the battered river system, which has been poisoned by over a decade of mining pollution.
“It’s a disaster”, said Mariette liefferink, the chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment. “This flood of untreated water reverts the river system back to the unfavourable situation it was in before the government established the new treatment plant.”
The problem is the highly toxic and potentially radioactive water leaching from the underground voids of abandoned and closed mines on the Witwatersrand. As gold mines have ceased their operations, the water table has returned to pre-mining levels, bringing with it rising water with a low pH tainted by salts and elevated heavy metals, including uranium.
Since August 2012, the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority, for the Department of Water Affairs, has upgraded the existing Krugersdorp treatment plant with a target treatment of 35 million litres per day for the Western Basin.
But excessive rainfall in the past week has meant that 26 million litres of drainage has “escaped” the treatment process, said Richard Holden, business analyst at the authority.
Yesterday Molewa presided over the installation of pumps at the new Central Mining Basin treatment plant, which would ensure drainage would remain below the environmental critical level. The Central Basin extends from Germiston to Roodepoort.