Mine tackles acid water

Grootvlei mine near Springs is making repairs to equipment which will almost double its capacity to pump acid mine water, said owners Aurora on Wednesday.

“By Friday we hope to be pumping up to full capacity,” said general manager for mining operations, Louis Lamsley.

Repairs had been done to pipe columns in the water treatment plant and Eskom would be giving the go ahead for additional power to be used in the extra pumping.

“We are opening a fifth and sixth column and this will increase the pumping capabilities.”

If the toxic water was left to rise underground, it would flood the Witwatersrand basins and have catastrophic consequences for the environment, human and animal life and future mining.

Acid water was formed underground when old mine shafts and tunnels filled up with water. The water oxidised with the sulphide mineral iron pyrite, better known as fool’s gold, and started decanting into the environment, in a harmful process known as acid mine drainage.

At a briefing last week held by Aurora and attended by representatives from the department of water affairs and mineral resources – Aurora said it cost R6.5-million a month to run the water treatment plant.

It also claimed that a government subsidy of R5-million a month had not been received since October last year.

“We have still not received any funding and we have not heard anything back from the department of water affairs since the briefing,” Lamsley said on Wednesday.

Marius Keet, the department of water affair’s acting director of institutional establishment, said the issue was “at ministerial level”, but would not provide any more detail.

Acid mine drainage was affecting the Western, Central and Eastern Basins of the Witwatersrand gold fields area, which in turn had negatively affected the Vaal and the Crocodile River systems.

Acid mine water was currently 600 metres below Johannesburg and, if left unchecked, would spill onto the streets in about 18 months, damaging buildings in the CBD.

Activist Mariette Liefferink, from the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said she had heard recently Aurora was pumping out untreated acid mine water.

“I heard that the water was being pumped into the nearby Blesbokstruit untreated, no lime or oxidation,” she said.

Lamsley refuted this.

“We are treating the water with lime and activating it with compressed air.”

In 2002, acid water began decanting out of a disused mine on Randfontein Estates about 42 km south-west of Johannesburg. Media reports on the topic only surfaced in 2007.

The Freedom Front Plus demanded on Wednesday that the water affairs department and Gauteng’s agriculture portfolio committee urgently respond to the matter.

“The situation should be treated… as a state of emergency as the contaminated water is life threatening to humans, animals and to nature in general,” said the party’s spokesman on environment affairs Jaco Mulder in a statement.

“The acid water situation already holds a danger for food security and the weakening of land and structures.”

Mulder had sent an urgent written request to the Gauteng legislature’s agriculture portfolio committee, demanding it take responsibility for the threat.

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