No consultation process has been carried out on the proposed acid mine drainage (AMD) solution with the affected individuals, says Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) CEO Mariette Liefferink.
Last month, a group of affected individuals signed a petition against the release of the toxic water. The petition requests that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs consults affected land-owners and occupiers, as well as end-users of water regarding the impacts of AMD on the soil, water, agricultural produce, security of tenure and health.
However, Ministerial spokesperson Sputnik Ratau says that a consultative process is still expected to take place regarding government’s short-term interventions planned for all the mining basins on the Witwatersrand.
Government’s short-term plan consists of discharging neutralised water, which is still highly toxic, into the river systems, Liefferink points out.
After neutralisation, the water still contains high levels of sulphate. Neutralisation only reduces the sulphate levels from 4 700 ppm to 3 700 ppm, which Liefferink says is still toxic.
She adds that the Department of Water Affairs and Environ-mental Affairs (DWEA) standard is 600 ppm for drinking water, 150 ppm for irrigation and 100 ppm for the environment.
Liefferink claims that the process of neutralisation results in the creation of a toxic and radio- active sludge consisting of all the heavy metals. The proposal is to treat 36-million litres a day in the Western basin alone and between 60-million litres a day and 100-million litres a day in the Central basin, which will create excessive volumes of sludge.
“We hope that there will be remediation of the ecosystems but there has been no funding allocated for it by government or by the State-owned Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) to address remediation.”
However, the DWEA says that, since the Western basin is cur- rently experiencing surface decant of AMD, an immediate or emergency solution is planned for the basin and it envisages that public consultation will take place for the specific activities arising.
On the West Rand, the proposed intervention will make use of gypsum crystallisers that will see further improvement in sulphate concentration, Ratau adds.
He claims that the sulphate concentration in the treated water is projected to be at around 2 500 mg/ℓ and not 3 700 ppm. “Although neutralisation improves AMD, in terms of pH and dissolved metals, it only partially improves sulphate levels.”But, a
t the Parliamentary committee at which this plan was announced, Advocate Johnny de Lange said the plan was unreasonable and illogical. It would cost government between R3/m3 and R5/m3 to discharge waste into the systems that had the potential to destroy ecosystems and, four years later, it would have to spend between R9/m3 and R15/m3 in an attempt to restore what had been destroyed.
“The situation has reached a point where it is extremely overwhelming and it is now out of control. The DWEA’s website states that, owing to AMD, the risk to water security is exceptionally high because, by 2014, we will not have sufficient water supply,” Liefferink says.
She adds that she visits many of the sites affected by AMD almost on a daily basis and the visible evidence and the devastation are clear.
But government claims there are very few people who will be affected by the discharge and that no one will be worse off than they were previously.
The TCTA was appointed to install pumps, construct water treatment plants and release the neutralised water into the river systems using the R225-million pledged by the National Treasury for the project.
However, Liefferink has not noticed much progress on the pro- ject because she claims that the R225-million has not been made availabe to the TCTA. The TCTA has requested a further R924-million from the National Treasury to deal with the country’s AMD challenge.
TCTA project manager Craig Hasenjager confirms that the TCTA has not received any money. However, the TCTA and the DWEA are in the process of finalising all the necessary protocols and funding is expected to be made available shortly.
“The fact that no transfer has been made has no impact on the implementation schedule of the AMD programme as the TCTA is using bridging finance to cover costs in the interim,” he stresses.
To implement the immediate solution, the TCTA entered into a partnership with Rand Uranium to upgrade the current Rand Uranium treatment plant so that it is able to treat up to 36-million litres a day instead of the current 12-million litres a day.
Hasenjager says this option will run solo until August 2012 and will then run in tandem with the short-term solution until the environmental critical level has been reached.
For the short-term solution, the tender design has been completed and the tender documents were issued on October 31. The closing date for the tenders is November 28. “It is hoped construction will start early in January 2012. “All three basins have been included in one tender document so that we can get the same type of equipment to allow for easy maintenance,” he states.