Environmental officials are working around the clock to curb the potential dangers posed by the impact of acid mine drainage (AMD) in the Witwatersrand mining area.
An expert team appointed by Cabinet to advise the ¬interministerial committee on the dangers of AMD to Gauteng warned earlier this year of the need to avert “impending ¬crises.” The team, drawn from the Council for Geosciences and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), among others, identified various risk categories, including the contamination of surface and ground water required for agricultural and human consumption.
But according to a statement issued this week by the Department of Water Affairs (DWA), “important progress” had been made by the State in implementing the immediate and short term actions recommended in the AMD Report.
It said Minister Edna Molewa had further tasked State-owned Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) to oversee installation of pumps to extract water from the mines to onsite treatment plants and construction of an on-site mine water treatment plant in each basin.
There will also be an installation of infrastructure to convey treated water to nearby watercourses and the facilitation of the best model, which shall be proposed to the DWA, for the operations of the pumping stations and treatment works.
Treasury had made a budget allocation of R225 million in the next three years towards the design and building of an acid mine water treatment facility, R5 million of which will be spent on a five-year plan to deal with acid mine drainage.
The statement said recent “collaborative efforts” between the department and TCTA have resulted in an investigation of existing mine water treatment infrastructure in the western and central basin mining areas, and of potential institutional arrangements with the mining companies that are active in these basins.
“The TCTA, by way of tender protocol, appointed a professional service provider to provide an intensive appraisal of the available infrastructure and to formulate appropriate engineering options to adequately resolve the AMD problem,” said the department.
The highest priority is being given to the development of solutions to reduce, if not eradicate, the surface decant of AMD in the West Rand area.
Also of high priority was the development of measures focused on ensuring that underground mine water levels in the central basin of the mines do not reach the environmental critical level, which poses a threat.
The department said pumps for the central basin have been procured and are set to be delivered by the end of July 2011. Other engineering requirements in terms of construction and electrical infrastructure will follow.
In the eastern basin, the department was awaiting final announcements by the liquidators that are administering the Aurora Mining Company. “The situation is being closely monitored and, if no real solution is provided, Government intervention will be unavoidable.”