The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is planning to take “drastic measures” to ensure mines and other sectors of the economy take responsibility for any groundwater contamination caused by their operations.
In a water status update on Wednesday, the department said the pollution of groundwater by coal mines was rampant in the Highveld towns of eMalahleni, Middelburg and Kriel.
“The department is planning to take drastic measures to compel the culprit mines and other industries to stop their negligence,” it said in the statement.
The department estimated that 90% of groundwater in the Highveld was contaminated by malcontent industries.
The DWS, in response to Parliamentary questions in April, noted that there were 712 mines with a water-use licence and 115 that were operating without water-use authorisation.
Nearly 80 water-use authorised mines were considered below 50% compliance.
At the time, then Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti said: “It is not clear why transgressors resort to the operation of mines without the requisite authorisation; however, the department continues to intensify activities to protect the water resource.”
In July, a Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) report claimed that several coal-mining operations in Mpumalanga were noncompliant with their water-use licences.
“The Upper Olifants Catchment has been identified by that department as one of South Africa’s most stressed catchment areas in relation to both water quantity and quality,” the report warned.
“The Upper Olifants Catchment is characterised by a high density of active and abandoned coal mines, coal-fired power stations and acid mine water discharge sites, resulting in severe degradation of water quality in the catchment,” the CER noted.
Meanwhile, the DWS warned that it would also crack down on municipalities that could not operate their wastewater treatment plants.