Acid Mine Drainage: input by Water Affairs; Federation for Sustainable Environment; Water Research Commission

Water and Sanitation

20 July 2010
Chairperson: Ms M Sotyu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Water Affairs and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment illustrated the depth of the problems presented by poor drainage practices and the negative impact such practices had on the environment.

The focus was on the effect bad Acid Mine Drainage practices had on water supplies, i.e. rivers, dams and tributaries. The report by the federation highlighted a dire situation where housing areas were designated to be built in areas that had water supplies which were contaminated by heavy metals. The federation showed the negative effects of consumption of water that was contaminated and illustrated the level of contamination of water used for drinking in different parts of the country. 

The Department highlighted the importance of water of high drinking quality. The Department stressed that it was working on legislation to ensure that where mines operated close to water sources, they abided by laws which prevented them from polluting that water. The Department noted that AMD was a problem that would affect the country for a long period of time (centuries) and that it needed proper management if people were to live safely in areas that were affected by it.

Members asked whether the Department was working to cut the bureaucracy involved with Acid Mine Drainage. They suggested that one person should be appointed with the sole job of monitoring and implementing policies focused on the task of AMD. They asked whether the Department had done enough to work with other departments. They asked whether a proper study on alternative energy sources had been conducted in South Africa.

Questions were raised as to whether there were enough legislative structures in place to ensure that mines that transgressed against environmental laws were punished. Members expressed their desire for more to be done to alert the public and stakeholders to the terrible state of the environment in parts of South Africa designated for human habitation. Members asked why the Department had not intervened in the allocation of a sight for habitation which was environmentally unsuitable. 

Meeting report

Acid Mine Drainage in South Africa with a focus on Mine Water Management in the Witwatersrand Gold Mining Area
Mr Mbangi Nepfumbada, Acting Deputy Director General Department of Water Affairs (DWA), and Mr Marius Keet, Deputy Director General of Water Quality Control DWA presented a general report on the problems associated with Acid Management Drainage (AMD) and the effects it has had on the Witwatersrand gold mining area.

AMD mainly manifests after a mine has closed its operations, although it can be produced during a mining operation. It is mostly associated with gold and coal mining. AMD results from the oxidation of sulphide minerals in mine ore bodies, such as pyrite, which are exposed in a mine or are present in dust in underground shafts and tunnels.
As a result of its acidity, AMD dissolves rock material and may contain a range of toxic metals. Water can become saline when AMD is neutralised through its reactions with rocks and, when mixing with other resources, can contaminate underground and surface waters. AMD is the biggest environmental challenge ever which impacts negatively on the quality of water resources (both ground and surface) and plays a role in flooding and decanting. AMD can lead to instability in the geology of an area and can destroy ecosystems and heritage sites. 

Most of the potential AMD producing mines are located in the north of the country in the Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal regions. Derelict and ownerless mines will have to become the responsibility of the state in order to mitigate any threat of AMD. The capacity for affected areas to dilute waste discharge in mining areas is limited in South Africa due to a low rainfall compared to other countries with said capacity.

The Department proposes to introduce integrated water resources management in order to manage the problem of AMD on a wider scale with more interdepartmental control in an effort to improve effectiveness. It proposes to stop or strictly control illegal mining in the country and proposes a 3 year project to identify pollution sources in the Olifants with two plants for AMD treatment already built in the region.   

In highlighting the plight of the Witwatersrand region, the Department noted that the area consisted of four underground basins which focused primarily on gold mining. It noted that at the start of mining in the area there were no laws governing the way in which mining was conducted, thus transgressions on the part of mine owners went unpunished and water quality was allowed to deteriorate.  As a result of these factors the area presents the Department with serious challenges moving forward in trying to undo a hundred years of AMD damage.

Acid Mine Drainage in South Africa
Ms Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), used examples of published reports that highlighted the depth and magnitude of the AMD problem. She supported the Department’s presentation and further illustrated problems facing the Witwatersrand’s basins.

She highlighted areas in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KZN which were afflicted by heavy metals near water sources and the possible effects that could have if imbibed by a human being. She noted that most of the legislation in current existence did not go far enough in regulating mines and mine owners and their lack of anti-pollution practices. She highlighted the heightened levels of radiological material in areas affected by AMD and the obvious negative effect that would have on humans living nearby. 

She showed illustrations of places where water sources had been contaminated yet allocated for human habitation. She used a resort named Amberfield Lifestyle Estate which was located on an environmental hazard which had heavy metals. She said that although there were obvious risks to people, the construction was approved due to poor checks and balances in certain departments.

The Water Research Commission and Acid Mine Drainage Research
Dr Jo Burgess, Research Manager for the Water Research Commission (WRC) under DWA echoed the DWA report with regard to the threats posed by AMD and its potential harm to human beings.

Future research should focus on cleaner production at unit operation level to prevent pollution; AMD prevention rather than treatment; improved water quality monitoring: liquid emulsion membranes to treat recalcitrant platinum group metals. Finally, there should be inspection of the water footprint/carbon footprint trade-off in mining.

The WRC was focused on improving technology usage in areas affected by AMD and worked in conjunction with other government departments to improve predictive ability, minimise the production and impact of AMD and improve treatment technologies. 

Please refer to attached document for further details.

Groundwater Related Research Presentation
Dr Shafick Adams, Research Manager: Water Resource Management, Water Research Commission under DWA, said if acid mine drainage was not properly managed; it would have severe impact on our water resources, land, health, wealth, etc.

Groundwater research supported the efforts to assess and characterise the AMD problems and tools had to be developed to help improve methodologies and capacity for handling the AMD problem.

Future plans included linking water resource protection with emerging water quality issues; innovative approaches to identify pollution sources; water resource protection zoning; implication of raw water quality on drinking water supplies and Karst hydrogeology.

The WRC would work to improve water quality where it could and improve knowledge and understanding of the issues around AMD. 

Please refer to attached document for further details.

The Chairperson of the Committee was late in arriving for the meeting, thus Mr P Mathebe (ANC) was elected Acting Chairperson for the remainder of the meeting. 

Mr G Morgan (DA) asked whether it would not be feasible to have one individual designated with dealing with AMD issues rather than having excessive bureaucracy around the important area of dealing with the problem.

Mr Nepfumbada said that Marius Keet was the designated man dealing with AMD issues and more was being done to streamline the bureaucracy in order to improve service in the area of AMD.

Ms A Lovemore (DA) asked whether the Department would do more to work with other governmental departments to fix the problem of AMD, as it appeared the problem was wide enough to encompass other departments.

Mr Nepfumbada said that a proposal had been tabled to work with other departments and would be finalised for future endeavours in preventive AMD work.

Mr L Greyling (ID) asked whether any study on realistic energy alternatives had been commissioned by the DWA and whether there were enough legislative structures in place to punish transgressing mines.

Ms Liefferink said that to her knowledge no such report had been commissioned.

Mr Nepfumbada said that there was more to be done on a legislative side to ensure that transgressors were punished.

Dr Z Luyenge (ANC) commented that the Department had to do more to alert the public on pervading AMD issues.

Ms M Sotyu (ANC) asked whether the government was solely responsible for dealing with AMD issues.

Mr Keet said that the Department was solely responsible but tried to bring in private stakeholders as well to assist.

The Acting Chairperson asked why the Department did not intervene to stop Amberfield Estate from being constructed in an environmentally dangerous place.

The Department replied that it was unaware of the case and would look into it.

The meeting was adjourned.


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