Acid Mine Drainage, Witwatersrand: Department of Water Affairs update

Water and Sanitation

22 May 2012
Chairperson: Mr J De Lange (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWA) gave an update on the steps taken to deal with Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in the Witwatersrand area. A Ministerial directive was issued on 6 April 2011, and three basins were being monitored. In the immediate term, the DWA was attending to installation of pumps, construction of water treatment plants, and release of treated water into river systems. It was seeking environmental and regulatory approvals, and funding from National Treasury. The environmental critical levels, above which ground water could be affected, were described for each of the basins, and the DWA warned that action had to be taken to avoid these levels being exceeded by 2014/15. Current water levels were about half way up to the ECLs. Members interrupted to note that the presentations were not clear enough, and questioned who was responsible for the large holes. They heard that these were not active mines, that one mine had had a licence to dump sludge, but this was now being addressed in the water ingress management systems. Pumps had been lowered to do repairs, and the DWA was focusing on neutralising acid, with the plants to be operational by end May 2012.  In the Western Basin, it was intended to treat about 23 mega litres per day. Members were concerned that the land on which the equipment was being installed was owned by the mines, and asked how the DWA would ensure that they cooperated. They did not feel that sufficient attention had been paid to contracting, thought that consent to use the land in return for indemnity was “nonsense”, and noted their concerns that the law must be applied stringently to the mines. The Department noted that, in the long term, a feasibility study was being done to investigate long-term solutions to secure safe water, by a team of experts.

Members were concerned at the time mentioned, asked why this study had not been undertaken before, suggested that other options must be used to fast-track the process, and thought it was far too long and drawn out. They also questioned the costs, and expressed the view that it was not necessary to hire consultants, as the DWA had its own experts who should have been used. They asked if any other strategies were being used by the mining companies to deal with acid water, asked who would be paying for the water that would be diluting the polluted water, and what the consequences would be of environmental critical levels being reached. They asked about the criminal charges against Grootvlei Mine for pumping acid water into rivers, and felt that the DWA was not committed enough, and should be presenting hard facts, rather than possibilities. They enquired if there was cooperation with Disaster Management and other departments and ministries, raised concerns about the budget shortfall and enquired how the work could be done, and in general indicated that they were dissatisfied with the presentation. The presenters used slides from a previous study to explain the repercussions of AMD and gave estimated costs. The DWA was asked to notify the Committee when the project would be starting and keep it updated.

Meeting report

Management of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in the Witwatersrand mining region: Department of Water Affairs progress report
Mr Trevor Balzer, Chief Operations Officer, Department of Water Affairs introduced the structure of the presentation and introduced the presenters.

Mr Marius Keet, Director: Gauteng Region, Department of Water Affairs, reminded Members that a Ministerial directive was issued on
6 April 2011 to implement certain steps around Acid Mine Drainage (AMD). Firstly, emergency works were needed in Witwatersrand gold fields, and these included the installation of pumps, construction of water treatment plants, and release of treated water into river systems. The Department of Water Affairs (DWA) had to obtain environmental and regulatory approvals, and seek funding from National Treasury, in order to advise and assist on future operations and maintenance model.

At the moment, there were three basins being monitored, and in the Western Basin, there were specific treatment works, because the water was currently considered too high. In the Eastern Basin,
the water was currently at 560 metres below surface level. He explained that the environmental critical level (ECL) was at 290 meters below surface. Mr Keet estimated that if no measures were taken, the environmental critical level would be reached by 2014/15. In the Central Basin, the current water level below surface was at 334 metres, and here the ECL was estimated at 174 metres below surface.

The Chairperson interjected to ask why there was 400 metres indicated in the graph.

Mr Keet responded that Central Rand Gold was doing prospecting work, and for this reason it was intended to lower the water level to 400 metres below surface.

The Chairperson interrupted again, and queried what the dots on the graph represented. He urged the presenters to remember that MPs were not expert in the subject, and asked them to explain the graphs more clearly.

Mr Keet explained the graphical representations of the dots and the basins in the graph.

The Chairperson asked if the large holes shown in some of the presentation slides were on mining property, and he asked if this was part of the “Botha legacy” and were taken into account when signing agreements with companies. He also asked who was paying for the costs.

Mr Keet explained that these were part of the old surface mining, and they were not active mines. He noted that Mokgale Mine had a licence to dump sludge into the open hole.

The Chairperson asked why the DWA was not pumping it out.

Mr Keet noted that this would be addressed as part of the water ingress management systems. He mentioned that this also involved safety issues.

Mr Johann Claassen, Executive Manager Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority, went on to present some of the immediate and short-term solutions. He confirmed that work had begun in all basins. In the Western Basin, pumps had been lowered down, to do repairs. The DWA would firstly be focusing on neutralising the acid, and equipment was being installed to attend to this. By 31 May 2012, the plant would be fully operational, and it would be treating about 23 mega litres per day. He added that Mokgale Gold Mine had already filled part of the open pit on the northern side.

The Chairperson interrupted to note that only a starting date had been given, but he wanted to know when this part of the project would be completed.

Mr Claassen said the immediate solution was to stop decamp, and to install new pipes that would be more effective in draining. The pumping would continue, and he anticipated that this should go on until around 2014.

The Chairperson asked who owned the land where the plant would be built.

Mr Claassen said it was owned by Rand Uranium.

The short term solutions were outlined in the presentation. In the Western basin it was revealed that the Rand Uranium treatment plant would be upgraded to  cater for up to 36Mega litres per day,Implement agreement with Rand Uranium, discharge treated water to Tweelopiespruit ,co-disposal of sludge to Wes Wits Pit, operating rule: solo until June 2013 then parallel with short-term solution until ECL, New HDS plant to be erected on Rand Uranium property – capacity 35 mega litres per day, installation of new pumps and pipe work in Rand Uranium Shaft 8, treated water transferred by pipeline to Tweelopiespruit, sludge disposal at West Wits Pit - duel pipeline, commissioning date 1st of June 2013 and to reach ECL level 165 m by February 2014.
In the central basin Mr Claassen outlined that DWA would use
new hydro desulphurise HDS plant next to South West Vertical Shaft – capacity 84 mega litres per day, use Central Rand Gold Ritz pumps, treated water transferred pipeline to Elsburg Spruit, sludge co-disposal with DRD Gold, the commissioning date  would be April  2013, ECL level 174 m/400.
In the eastern basin Mr Claassen tabled the following short term solutions:
new HDS plant at Grootvlei – 110 mega litres per day, installation of new pumps and pipe work, treated water transferred to Blesbok Spruit, sludge co-disposal at Daggafontein TSF via duel lines and the commissioning date  would be June 2014.
The Chairperson asked what would happen if the company stopped cooperating in the future. He expressed his anger at the situation and felt that they should be called to Parliament.

Mr Balzer noted that the Department needed the Mine’s cooperation to take care of the sludge. He noted that the mines were giving the DWA access to their land in order to gain indemnity for their past activities. The Department did have an option of expropriating the land in the case where cooperation was not given. However, he said that from a practical point of view, the sludge needed to be disposed of, and therefore cooperation from the mine was needed.

The Chairperson thought that this was tantamount to blackmail, and described the arrangement as “nonsense”. He hoped that there would not be any negotiations after 31 May 2012.

The Chairman also raised a question about the three basins, and was concerned about the sizes.

Mr Peter Lukey, Representative, Council for Geoscience, said the size of the plants was based on the yields.

Dr Beason Mwaka, Director: Water Resource Planning Systems (WRPS), Department of Water Affairs, noted that he would briefly touch upon the long-term solutions. He revealed that a feasibility study would be
expedited to look at long term solutions for securing safe water.

The Chairperson interrupted and asked who was doing the study.

Dr Mwaka noted that the team consisted of several experts, including lawyers.

The Chairperson quipped that if the lawyers were excluded, the process would move faster. He suggested that the Department had to consider other ways, including use of technology, to fast track the process.

Dr Mwaka said that
monitoring of water quality and quantity on surface and in basins should be improved, to ensure better decision-making.

The Chairperson asked what exactly it was intended to improve.

Mr Claassens explained that some of the shafts were open, and therefore monitoring systems were crucial and physical security was needed.

Mr Keet noted that there were budget constraints, although this had to be addressed.

Mr Balzer explained the relevance of the feasibility study, and stated that this study would look at all aspects to address water security. He also stated that, when the feasibility study was presented to the Ministers of Minerals and Environmental Affairs in February 2012, concerns were raised about the time it would take to get the outcomes of the study. He noted that in terms of water treatment a request for proposals would be issued before the end of the13 month feasibility study period.

The Chairperson was concerned about the 13-month study, and said other alternatives should have been considered. He also noted that the DWA had its own experts and expressed that there was no need to go to the private sector.

Mr J Skosana (ANC) also questioned why the Department was using outside experts for the feasibility study, instead of utilising people from within.

Mr Balzer said he had taken note of this concern.

Mr Skosana also asked if there were any other strategies being used by the mining companies to deal with acid water.

Mr Balzer said there was no single strategy at the moment. He noted that the present damage had been caused by companies in the past, as well as more recently.

Mr G Morgan (DA) raised questions about water that was used for dilution in the Vaal River, and enquired who would be paying for the water that was used to treat previously-polluted water.

Mr Balzer responded that the consumer would have to pay for it.

Mr Morgan asked what the consequence would be if the environmental critical levels were reached and exceeded.

This question does not seem to have been answered.

Mr Morgan asked about the status of criminal charges laid against the Grootvlei mine for pumping acid water into the Spruit river. He also asked who was being charged, owners or directors of the company.

Mr Keet said the charges were still being processed by the National Prosecuting Agency (NPA). The charges were being laid against the mine as a legal entity. He also said the Department was looking at monitoring all basins as a security measure.

Mr Morgan wondered why it had taken so long to start the feasibility study. He asked how much it would cost.

Dr Mwaka said the study would cost R17 million and the study would take thirteen months.

Mrs M Wenger (DA) raised questions about terminology used in the presentation, and asked in particular why the DWA had referred to the “possibility” of things happening. She believed that it should be seeking, and giving firm commitments.

Mr Keet said the team would look into this issue.

Dr Mwaka added that the reason why this particular phraseology had been used was that there were a number of possible solutions. The Department was looking at merits and demerits of every solution.

Mrs Wenger said the Department must state problems up front, instead of speculating.

Mrs Wenger wanted to know if there was cooperation with Disaster Management units in Gauteng, when dealing with acid water.

Mr Keet said the Gauteng Provincial Department dealing with water was intensively involved in all the processes.

Mr S Huang (ANC) raised concerns about long term construction. He was also concerned about the water level measurements on the graph, seeking further clarity on the figures mentioned for those levels. He also noted that there were concerns about water quality.
Mr Keet noted that the graph showed the level of water underground and the environmental critical level (ECL) in three different basins measured in metres below surface.
Mr Huang also wanted to know about the role of BPRC.
Mr Balzer responded to Mr Huang’s question and stated that BPRC was not involved in this project. He went further to say that BPRC was dealing with the broader re-engineering of the Department.

The Chairperson asked about the amount of water in the three basins.

Mr Claassens answered that to date the DWA had not done any calculations on that.

The Chairperson referred back to a previous question and asked what would happen if the ECL was reached.

Mr Keet explained that as long as the water levels were kept below the ECL, there would be protection of ground water.

Mr Balzer noted that he had taken note of questions raised about the feasibility study, and assured Members that the Department would consider the points raised.

The Chairman stated that he was not impressed. He wanted a firm commitment from the Department to deal with the issue urgently, and not half-measures.

Mr Balzer said he would engage with the different Ministers who dealt with the issue, and that the Department would be evaluating all the possible options. He assured Members that their concerns had been noted and would be addressed.

Mr Claassen then gave some more figures on the water levels. Currently, the ECL was 400 metres below sea level, in a particular area. The central basin levels would rise. He added that the water yield would go up to 84 metres a day, in the Central Basin to 57 metres a day and across all basins to 160 metres a day.

Mr Keet added that it was not easy to predict where the water would flow. He said monitoring systems would be upgraded.

Dr Mwaka said another study had been put forward.

Chairperson pointed out that the Committee had already been told that the feasibility study would cost more than R17 million. He disputed the figure put forward by Dr Mwaka.

Mr Morgan quipped that perhaps the feasibility study would be speeded up if those doing it were based in the mines themselves. He asked how far the DWA had gone in assessing the
liability of mines.

Ms B Ferguson (COPE) raised concern about the budget shortfall.

Mr Balzer said the approved budget was R433 million, but the Department needed about R900 million.

Mr Claassen thought it was important to refer to the Vaal river slides from a previous presentation
(Strategic messages from Planning reports) to explain the repercussions of AMD. The Chairperson told the DWA to submit this document to the Committee, as it contained new information.
Mr Claassen explained in the slides that there was enough water in the Vaal river system to dilute acid mine water (AMD) until 2014. According to his predictions, this would change on a wet season. He went on to say that the water yield would go down once the water treatment plant was fully operational. He explained that the yield would go down from 3200 million m3 per annum to 2600 million m3 per annum. While focusing on the first slide (graph) of the Vaal river system, he pointed out that even if the Lesotho Highveld water project was fully operational, the demand would outstrip the supply of water by 2020 (black dots in the graphical representation). See the attached document for details.
The Chairman interrupted and said, AMD was missing in the graph.
Mr Claassen stressed that this would happen if no measures were taken to address the situation (worse case scenario). Furthermore, he mentioned that if water treatment was not done, it would cost the Vaal system R25 billion in 25 years.
The Chairman stated that the correct policy decisions should be taken to avoid massive costs to the consumer. 
Update on situation in Carolina
Mr Balzer told the Committee that as of last Friday the water was now safe to drink. He said DWA was working with the municipality to reduce the acidity level.
The Chairperson asked for the names of mines that had polluted the water. He asked what these mines were doing to stop the problem.
Mr Balzer noted that they were working with the mines to address the issue of water pollution.
While referring to the feasibility study, the Chairperson expressed anger at the fact that the Department would take 13 months to look at ways of solving an urgent problem. He referred back to Mr Skosana’s question about liability of mines for their actions and an overall plan from DWA to deal with Mines throughout the Country. The Chairperson asked for regular feedback from Mr Balzer about Carolina and other projects.
The Chairperson asked how the short term solutions would work if there was insufficient budget and requested Mr Balzer to notify the Committee before the end of the month on immediate plans to remedy the situation. He said that the DWA must notify the Committee, prior to 1 June 2012, as to when the project would be starting. He urged that the law should be stringently applied to all mines. He urged that strong letters be written to the relevant parties to note their commitment to the matters. He expressed doubt that the feasibility study would take 13 months, and thought that the current Committee would no longer be in office by the time the study was completed.
The meeting was adjourned.


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