Acid mine water quick-fix possible as water deficit looms, Oppenheimer, De Beers  told


JOHANNESBURG ( –Water-constrained Gauteng may see an acid mine drainage (AMD) quick fix in order to save the fresh water from the Lesotho HighlandsWater Project (LHWP) from being wasted on AMD dilution instead of being available to the economy,environmental adviser Dr Anthony Turton said on Wednesday.

Delivering the keynote address to an audience of academics, students and environmental managers – and including former De Beers luminary Nicky Oppenheimer and Tuesday’s keynote speaker Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi – at the second day of the Oppenheimer De Beers Group Research Conference, Turton drew attention to State failure in thewater sector and forecast that pockets of the water value chain would be privatised while water itself remained a State responsibility.

He spoke of the country ultimately transitioning to a waterfuture based on a dual-stream reticulation system of water of different qualities and prices being used for different purposes.

The former Council for Scientific and Industrial Researchwater scientist foresaw systemic failure as being inevitable in the water sector in the Gauteng area, which hosts 60% ofSouth Africa’s national economy and 45% of its people.

Short-term failure of critical water supply subsystems would mean a repeat in water of what had already happened inelectricity.

Just as on-site generators had alleviated the Eskom powercrisis, South Africans would soon need uninterrupted water supply systems that provided strategic on-site back-up in highly engineered systems.

A problem for factories and buildings was the absence of dual-reticulation, which would have to be retrofitted.

Additional water for Gauteng from the second phase of the LHWP would no longer be forthcoming at the planned date owing to tender process hold-ups, which would delay it for at least five years, he told the conference attended by Creamer Media’s Mining Weekly Online.

At the same time, fresh water from the existing LHWP was having to be used to dilute the acidity of water from mines, which meant that the water used for dilution was no longer available to the economy.

To solve this, salts needed to be removed from AMD at source, as had been agreed in 2012, and Phase 2 of the LHWP needed to go ahead without delay.

Had AMD been tackled, there would be no need to use much-needed fresh Lesotho water to up quality levels.

“That would have been an almost instantaneous quick-fix but it hasn’t happened,” said Turton, who added that even without a drought, 60% of the national economy was heading for fundamental water constraint.

Far worse that AMD flow was the sewage return flowproblem, which he calculated as being a 238 times greater challenge.

Outlining official figures that point to a water deficit by 2025, he identified sewage management as South Africa’s biggest single water crisis with five-billion litres of sewage generated daily and only 20% of that being treated to an adequate level of safety.

A staggering four-billion litres of sewage a day is going back into the system untreated and partly treated, with the partly treated sewage being worse than untreated sewage, as only the weak bacteria is destroyed and the strong bacteria is allowed to survive.

South Africa needed to get its head around its microcystin problem, with the State being the country’s biggest singlewater polluter, he said.

While microcystin in a country like Finland is ten micrograms a litre, South Africa’s microcystin occasionally spiked as high as 18 000 micrograms a litre and averaging 10 000 micrograms a litre.

Against that background, between now and 2025 only an abundance of rain could come to the country’s aid.

Other variables, which needed to be guaranteed, to facilitate additional economic investment, were water pressure, quality, price, location and time.

As things stood, water-use licences continued to be an issue in mining circles and Turton knew of no mining organisation with a proper functioning water-use licence.

This is not because mines are being deliberately noncompliant but because of it being nigh impossible to comply.

He related a case of dysfunction between regulatory departments last year leading to a legal drought-hit sand-mining operation being shut down in KwaZulu-Natal whileillegal mining operations alongside it were allowed to proliferate unhindered.

Also looming large was the high level of disconnect between national and municipal authorities and the issue of systemic failure, resulting in a lack of ability to self-correct.

Turton cited an instance of institutional collapse presenting an unsurmountable obstacle to engineering correction and this being exacerbated by political interference damaging adaptive dynamics.

Most bulk potable water treatment plants were designed to precipitate water with suspended solids and provide minimal treatment for bacterial viruses using chlorine; they were never designed to turn sewage water into potable water.

Clean water coming into the Vaal dam from natural inflow has been very limited lately.

While the upper Vaal river was low in total dissolved solids (TDS), TDS spikes were being found in the Vaal river barrage reservoir area owing to the inflow of saline sewage water as well as AMD from the Klipspruit and the Blesbokspruit, which both drain the Central basin and the Eastern basin of the Witwatersrand goldfields.

A second AMD source from the Free State goldfields also occurred at a lower point on the Vaal river.

Unlike power shedding, water shedding was impossible owing to the system being designed to work on a positive pressure – negative pressure resulted in the occurrence of vacuums, air and the entry of dirty water into the system that when chlorinated had potential unintended carcinogenic consequences. The failure of infrastructure was accelerated through water hammering.

As a result of a quarter of the rain gauging stations being lost, the country was currently making use of a similar level of rain gauging capacity that it had in the 1920s.

Insufficient stream-flow gauging stations are also failing to forewarn about the extent of drought impact, Turton revealed.

He went on to relate the case of a new coastal resort in KwaZulu-Natal relying completely on desalinated seawater and renewable energy.

Turton predicted that long-term water change would be centred on sewage reticulation and the recovery of water and phosphate from sewage as a matter of national strategic importance.

He told of having just completed a water assessment for a hotel in Durban, where water was being stored on the roof in very high temperature conditions conducive to the spread of Legionnella disease – an example of the kind of unintended consequence of late quick-fixes.

“Ultimately State failure starts in one little place and it spreads out like a cancer through the system,” Turton told the conference attended by Creamer


Op-Ed: Edna Molewa on my ‘newfound moral conscience’ – a response

  • 12 SEP 2016 02:54 (SOUTH AFRICA)

Edna Molewa devoted much of her letter to questioning my motives in criticising her actions when she was Minister of Water Affairs. It would have been better had she refuted the claims that government was callous in its reactions to the denial of water to communities. It was found necessary to litigate in order to secure the constitutional right to clean water for those living in Carolina, where the water had been polluted for many months, it appears through inadequate management of mine acid. By RAYMOND SUTTNER.

Edna Molewa takes issue with my characterisation of her role as then Minister of Water Affairs in Carolina in 2012, when communities were denied their constitutional right to clean water (“Letter to the Editor: Raymond Suttner’s newfound moral conscience”, Daily Maverick, 8 September 2016).

She claims that tests showed the water was clean. It is not possible to relate all the representations and legal actions taken. But the question is when the water was found to be clean and whether that claim went unchallenged. The state had to be hauled before the court where they were ordered to provide clean water, and when they failed to comply, further legal action was required.

The failure to provide clean water and communities having to drink water out of polluted streams was a regular feature of the period of Molewa’s incumbency, depicted on television screens and a range of media over this period. (For some reports on the water pollution in Carolina see, among others, those in the Mail & Guardian andBusiness Day in 2012 and 2013 and continuing to this day, in other areas).

Whatever Molewa’s interest in clearing her own name may be, she seems as concerned to depict me as lacking in integrity, hence the reference in the title to my having a “newfound moral conscience”. Thus she writes:

“His ‘moral conscience’ is also newly found. Where was this critical voice of his when he served as Member of Parliament under the previous administration – when millions of South Africans were dying of HIV/Aids because they weren’t offered the necessary treatment?”

The previous administration presumably refers to the period when Thabo Mbeki was president between 1999 and 2008. I was not a Member of Parliament at the time. I never served in Parliament when Mbeki was president, having resigned my seat in July 1997.

Given her interest in my ethical reputation I would advise Ms Molewa to check whether there is any inconsistency between the quality of what I advance now and that which I did when I was an ANC MP and member of the leadership of the ANC up till 1997.

Molewa is free to question my “moral conscience” but she needs to use some fact checking facility in order to direct it to situations where I was present and had an opportunity to act. (If it was necessary to raise one’s voice over former president Thabo Mbeki’s stance on HIV/Aids as a public figure surely that is a question that Ms Molewa should be directing at herself since she held high office throughout this period?)

Molewa depicts me as obsessed with President Zuma and says “all Suttner, an academic, writes about is President Jacob Zuma…flogging his recycled wares to different publishing houses”.

If I were to write only about President Zuma, that would be quite legitimate, given the range of irregularity, illegality and acts of violence committed under his leadership or in some cases through his direct involvement (with the acquiescence of Cabinet members and MPs like Ms Molewa).

But the truth of the matter is that I write on a range of topics, as is evident if Ms Molewa or her back-up team were to google what I have written. The article to which she replies was aimed precisely at arguing that, however problematic the presidency of Zuma may be, the problem goes beyond him, given that the government is engaged in a range of practices entailing patronage or corrupt relationships with others. For this condition many people in Cabinet, Parliament, structures of the ANC and its allies, apart from President Zuma, bear responsibility.

As it happens, I submit my articles (“flogging his recycled wares”) almost exclusively to Creamer Media’s and these are generally reprinted in the Daily Maverickand a limited number of other outlets. But I do have a right to spread whatever I write wherever I can secure publication.

Molewa’s reference to the allocation of funds to needy students is unclear, referred to as something in which I have a “vested interest”. The term “vested interest” usually refers to a situation where a person has something to gain as an individual. What is my “vested interest”?

Ms Molewa devoted much of her letter to questioning my motives. It would have been better had she refuted the claims that government was callous in its reactions to the denial of water to communities. It was found necessary to litigate in order to secure the constitutional right to clean water for those living in Carolina, where the quality of the water had been polluted for many months, it appears through inadequate management of mine acid (primarily the responsibility of another government department).

Even after the North Gauteng High Court ordered the municipal authorities to provide clean water and declared it clean, the communities are reported to have contested this. I do not know the present status of the water in Carolina, but certainly, the pollution of 2012 was not treated with the level of urgency of a government that depicted itself as concerned with the poorest of the poor. Access to clean water remains elusive for many communities to this day. That is one of many scandals of the current ANC-led government. DM

Photo of Raymond Suttner by Ivor Markman.

Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. He is a former political prisoner for activities in the ANC-led liberation struggle. Currently he is a part-time Professor attached to Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at Unisa. His most recent book is Recovering Democracy in South Africa (Jacana and Lynne Rienner, 2015). He blogs at and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner

From mine pollution to pure water

Acid mine drainage flowing into a farm dam is distinguished by its brown colour. Use of affected water can be dangerous for humans, plants and livestock. Picture: THE TIMES

THE harsh realities of more than 120 years of mining, particularly on the goldfields of the Witwatersrand, became most pronounced in 2001 when the alarm was raised about a “decant” on the West Rand.

The leakage of acidic mine water from disused and abandoned mines created the need to protect the environment into which the polluted water was flowing.

The decant caused unwanted water security risks and negative socioeconomic and environmental effects. The worst risk was to the Vaal Dam and Vaal River system, which is central to water security in Gauteng.

The decision by the Cabinet to institute an interministerial committee on acid mine drainage in 2010, guided and supported by a team of experts, proved to be a master stroke.

Whereas initially acid mine drainage was regarded as an issue only for the then department of water affairs, what resulted from the work of the interministerial committee was that a multipronged approach was identified as required.

Another important lesson is that all interested and affected parties have a role to play in the resolution of many of the negative effects humankind has on the world. While the government needs to ensure the security of all, the voices of those outside the government who are interested and affected by problems must and will also be heard.

In working out how to solve the major challenge of acid mine drainage, it became apparent that, like the intertwined fingers of two hands, the government had to partner with the private sector — mining, industry and agriculture — and environmental nongovernment organisations (NGOs) and affected communities to reach consensus on how to address it.

THE team of experts suggested short-term acid mine drainage mitigation interventions, with the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) as the implementing agent.

The technical solution for the Western Basin commenced in December 2011 with the upgrading of an existing acid mine drainage plant to a capacity of 36-million litres per day. The neutralised water was released to the Tweelopiespruit.

The project eradicated surface decant by August 2012, with a significant improvement in river water quality and aquatic life. It was augmented by new clarifiers and a new pump station to cleanse 70-million litres per day.

The technical solution for the Central Basin started in January 2013 with the construction of a new acid mine drainage treatment plant next to the South West Vertical Shaft. This plant has a capacity of 84-million litres per day and has been operational since May 2014. It is currently treating 72-million litres per day according to the Department of Water and Sanitation’s specifications. The treated water is being released into the Elsburgspruit.

For the Eastern Basin, work commenced in July 2014 with the construction of a new acid mine drainage treatment plant next to the Grootvlei No 3 shaft, with a capacity of 110-million litres per day. Commissioning started in March with full operation projected for July. The treated water will be released into the Blesbokspruit.

Beyond this short-term intervention, the team of experts also suggested a long-term acid mine drainage mitigation intervention.

The government has directed that all options need to be considered to ensure that the best and most cost-effective approach is implemented. The TCTA was appointed as the implementing agent in May and has developed an accelerated programme to clean the water.

The long-term solution will integrate with the short-term solution and the desalinated acid mine drainage will be directed towards beneficial socioeconomic uses. In the long run this will have a positive effect on reducing demand from the Vaal River. The operations are projected to start in February 2020.

READ THIS: Treating acid mine drainage will cost up to R12bn, says Mokonyane

Political will was required to tackle this challenge. Initially there was huge criticism of the government when the problem was identified, but there is now appreciation from many environmental NGOs of the effort and direction that this process has taken. The inclusion of all stakeholders in the process and sharing information has really helped.

FOR the long-term solution to be sustainable, there will need to be rigorous monitoring and reporting on acid mine drainage, with the Department of Water and Sanitation verifying water and salt balances. There has to be support for and strengthening of partnerships with, for example, mining companies, Rand Water, Sasol and Eskom.

What will also help is the continuous exploration of promising technologies and strategies for acid mine drainage management by a technology development task team that has yet to be established.

Proactive measures for acid mine drainage management nationally must include an assessment of other mining catchment areas to ensure timeous interventions with specific emphasis on mine water policy, strategies, control, prevention and the reuse of mining-affected water.

A national acid mine drainage/mine water management policy has to be developed, which will include partnerships with business to address the problem.

The interministerial committee will ensure that engagements to optimise and ensure parallel measures for acid mine drainage and mine water management are sustainable for a long while to come.

Acid mine drainage took a long time to show itself. It will take a long time to collectively ensure that it becomes a boon instead.

  • Ratau is director of media liaison at the Department of Water and Sanitation


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