Government proposal does not deal with urgency of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) problem
Possible that AMD below Johannesburg risen above environmentally critical limit
DA poses parliamentary questions asking for justification from Minister
The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the call by the Department of Water Affairs for service providers to provide proposals on how to deal with Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in the Western, Eastern and Central Basins of Gauteng. A tender document on this matter was released at the end of last week. However the study, which is at a pre-feasibility level and has a timeline of 18 months, does not correspond with the urgency of the problem. AMD is already flowing from the surface in the West Rand at several million litres a day, and is likely to increase in intensity as the rainy season approaches. Further it has been acknowledged by the Department of Water Affairs itself in a briefing to the Portfolio Committee of Water and Environmental Affairs that AMD is rising in the central basin at between 0.6m and 0.9m a day. It is therefore possible that before any sustainable solution is actually instituted the AMD below the City of Johannesburg (which sits on top of the Central Basin) could have risen above the environmentally critical limit of 150m below the surface.
The DA will submit parliamentary questions on how the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs can justify such a long time line for the formulation of a response to the AMD threat, and whether she will reconsider the timelines in order that the matter is treated with the urgency that it deserves.
In late July, following a visit by DA public representatives to both the West Rand and East Rand to assess the state of affairs with regards to AMD, we called for urgent action from the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs. We are pleased that there has been a response, and that government acknowledges the problem. The Minister has initiated a task team, and now there is a bid process for a pre-feasibility study. It is important that there is an open process that can consider as many service providers as possible, however, the study cannot take so long to complete. Besides the severe nature of the AMD problem, which the bid documents acknowledge but without articulating the urgency of implementing a solution, it must be noted that reports on the AMD problem from scientific institutions are numerous and ideas on sustainable solutions to the problem, although not all codified, abound within research institutions, the mining sector and civil society.
The study goal aims to consider the short term interventions taken thus far in each basin, to provide a sustainable solution to deal with the regional implications of AMD, and to develop an implementable plan to convert the AMD into re-usable water that can be integrated into water resources. It is safe to say that completing all these components need not take 18 months. Considering the urgency of the problem, most notably the existing decant of AMD on the West Rand and the rising mine water below Johannesburg, there needs to be sufficient time to actually implement the solutions, which means among other things obtaining environmental authorisations for any engineering solutions that may be needed, obtaining any necessary water use licences, and public participation processes, among other things.
Obviously getting the solution right the first time is vitally important. If the ultimate response is ineffective there may not be time to formulate an alternative. At the same time choosing the most effective response quickly is important when considering the immediate and future risks that AMD poses, both of which are already well known.