JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Government and regulators should promote a regional integrated approach to mine water treatment, says Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) Mine Water/Water Quality Management chief director Marius Keet.
Speaking at the Science Business Society Dialogue Conference on Linking Science, Society, Business and Policy for the Sustainable Use of Abandoned Mines in the Southern African Development Community Region, in Johannesburg, on Wednesday, he emphasised that a lack of a regional approach to the management of mine water is a key challenge in South Africa.
He noted that, instead of mine water treatment actions being conducted in silos, with each mining company conducting its own treatment studies and building smaller water treatment plants, an integrated approach will allow for regional water treatment works that deal with the regional challenges, such as acid mine drainage.
“Water doesn’t see boundaries – provincial, mining or geological,” Keet said, suggesting that the regional challenges and regulations for water treatment could be dealt with in the water use licence conditions of the mines.
Of the 1 654 operational mines in South Africa, 518 mines have water use licences. Keet emphasised that it should be noted that not all unlicensed mines need licences, as the DWS still needs to verify how many of the mines are, for instances, quarries and sand mining operations that do not necessarily require water use licences.
An integrated approach will also be more sustainable, cost-effective and, because of economies of scale, will eliminate the need for smaller plants, said Keet.
Meanwhile, the DWS aims to promote the move away from conventional treatment plants, such as the typical reverse osmosis systems, to passive treatment systems that can be self-sustaining, he added.
While Keet acknowledged that, in some cases, such as in the Witwatersrand, reverse osmosis treatment remains a primary option, he underscored the scope for other technologies.
Key challenges in terms of mine water treatment highlighted by Keet include the legacies left from mining, as well as a lack of environmental laws to deal with the challenges of acid mine drainage.
Mine owners disappearing once mineral reserves are depleted, a high cost of mine water treatment and waste disposal, the sustainability of conventional mine water treatment plants, as well as perceptions on the use of treated mine water remain challenging, Keet highlighted.
“There is a perception in South Africa, that people can’t drink treated mine water . . . We need a paradigm shift, a mind change in people and to convince people that you can use any type of water,” he stressed, reiterating that the problem must be made a resource.