Acid Mine Water treatment plant in the pipelines

A JOINT state-private water treatment facility is likely to be set up to deal with the threat of toxic water from the Witwatersrand gold fields into rivers and lakes. This emerged on Wednesday at the Mine Water 2010 conference. The treatment plant is expected to cost about R2bn.

Jaco Schoeman, MD of Western Utilities Corporation and the brains behind the proposed water treatment facility, said that the government insisted that the company form a public-private partnership (PPP) to operate the plant. Western Utilities is a wholly owned subsidiary of Watermark Global, which is listed on the Alternative Investment Market in London. It was originally established to fund, design and build the water treatment plant capable of processing 75 mega litres of acid mine drainage.

Schoeman said Western Utilities had already undertaken a pilot project, which cost R75m. For the full-scale plant to proceed, Schoeman said government wanted a black empowerment partner to own 60% in the PPP venture and Western Utilities the remainder.

The plant is expected to treat acidic water from the Witwatersrand gold fields and sell it to water utility Rand Water. The potential volume of acid mine drainage for the Witwatersrand gold fields alone amounts to an estimated 350 mega litres per day. Schoeman said construction of the new water treatment plant was estimated at about R2bn.

Mining companies have pledged to contribute R500m into the water treatment project. Schoeman said Western Utilities intends raising the rest through debt and equity funding. But some experts expressed scepticism about the new venture. Richard Doyle, MD of Earth Metallurgical Solutions, said part of the problem was that the regulator and stakeholders, including mines, were trying to decide which single solution they could back. “This is fundamentally a flawed approach,” Doyle said.

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