Acid flood ‘an emergency’

The impending acid water crisis in Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand should be treated as a state of emergency, the Freedom Front Plus said on Friday.

FF+ spokesperson on water and environmental affairs, Jaco Mulder, said in a statement he was concerned that the true extent of the crisis was greater than the attention it was being given.

Prevent ‘national disaster’

“The FF Plus welcomes the fact that the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs has started with legal action against mining companies and introduced an action plan”, Mulder said.

“We are however concerned that the true extent of the crisis is much greater as the attention it is being given.”

He said communication and co-operation between the local, provincial and national governments must be improved to prevent a “national water disaster”.

The City of Johannesburg has acknowledged the concern about the acid water problem and said there were a number of initiatives in place from national and provincial level “with the objective of reaching a cost-effective resolution of the mine water challenge based on international best practices”.

Spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said the City would cooperate with the initiatives implemented to deal with the situation.

Study before ‘alarmist statements’

Modingoane said the underground shafts filling with water was of great concern to the city, but it would like to take a precautionary approach “informed and confirmed by in-depth specialist studies without resorting to alarmist public statements”.

Earlier in the week Parliament’s water affairs portfolio committee heard that millions of litres of highly acidic mine water was rising up under Johannesburg and, if left unchecked, could spill out into its streets some 18 months from now.

The acid water is currently about 600 metres below the city’s surface, but is rising at a rate of between 0.6 and 0.9 metres a day, water affairs deputy director water quality management Marius Keet told MPs.

Speaking at the briefing, activist Mariette Liefferink, from the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said the rising mine water had the same acidity as vinegar or lemon juice, and was a legacy of 120 years of gold mining in the region.

Acid water is formed underground when old shafts and tunnels fill up. The water oxidises with the sulphide mineral iron pyrite, better known as fool’s gold. The water then fills the mine and starts decanting into the environment, in a process known as acid mine drainage.

Western, Eastern Basin threatened

In 2002, acid mine drainage had started decanting from the Western Basin, located below the Krugersdorp-Randfontein area. The outflow had grown worse earlier this year after heavy rains.

The region’s Eastern Basin, below the town of Nigel, was also threatened. The last working mine still pumping out water in the area was Grootvlei.

Keet said that if the mine stopped pumping, acid water would start decanting into the town “within two to three years”.

Water affairs is currently taking legal action against the mine, after it allegedly failed to comply with a departmental directive to treat the pumped water before discharging it.

About R220-million was needed to establish pump stations, pipelines and treatment works to deal with the acid water under Johannesburg.

Is it not sad that political parties refer to “alarmist statements” when this pending crisis was identified 10 years ago. Now, when disaster is about to strike, every political party or union is trying to jump on the bandwagon. No party is willing to be proactive and prevent this from happening.

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