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Acid water report in cabinet today

16 February 2011 at 3:29 pm

16 February 2011
Business Report
By Donwald Pressly

A report on acid mine drainage will go to the cabinet today, setting out the government’s plan to stem the flow of millions of litres of toxic water into various rivers and wetlands.

However, Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said at a briefing by infrastructure cluster ministers yesterday morning that the department had the necessary R218 million required to construct a pump station on the East Rand to fight the toxic tide rising beneath the surface in Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

Molewa said the problem in Gauteng “is quite bad to say the least”, noting that in Krugersdorp a number of mines had closed down, leaving no one to deal with the problem of acid drainage decanting.

“Government has got to address this problem,” she said, noting that there were just a few mines operating and the burden could not be expected to be carried by them alone.

She said a pump station would be built in Boksburg on the East Rand and it would probably be in operation by the end of next year.

Mbangiseni Nepfumbada, the chief director of policy at water affairs, said there were tight deadlines in terms of the decanting, but he did not believe that this plan would be on stream “too late”. “We can say the timing is tight,” he said.

The minister said her department had been in discussions with the National Treasury and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to resolve the funding problem related to tackling acid mine drainage.

This could take the form of an environmental tax, but the details were being worked out together with the Treasury.

Acid mine drainage is an acute problem. According to environmentalists, Grootvlei mine at Ekhurhuleni is pumping out 40 megalitres of water a day into the Blesbokspruit, which feeds the Maryvale wetland. Decanting on the West Rand is taking place on Rand Uranium’s property and flowing into the Tweelopies Spruit.

Only about 15 megalitres of the 50 megalitres being pumped are being treated.

A range of environmental organisations gave the government until next week to respond to a demand that a government report on ways to stop the flow be released.

The Centre for Environmental Rights, Earthlife Africa and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment led a host of organisations which argued that the government’s failure to act was unconstitutional.

In terms of the constitution, everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.