SA mulls mine drainage solutions

27 June 2011

South Africa’s National Treasury is looking at setting up a private-public partnership to tackle acid mine drainage, and is also considering implementing an environmental levy to fund the rehabilitation of affected groundwater.

Briefing Parliament’s committee on water affairs in Cape Town last week, the National Treasury’s director of public finance, Maselaganye Matji, said a private-public partnership could include the Departments of Mineral Resources and Water Affairs, adding that businesses, including mines, were interested in funding a long-term solution.

The idea was that whatever income was generated by the public-private partnership would be used to fund the necessary water and technical infrastructure, he said.

The partnership would treat polluted underground water at Grootvlei Mine and the Witwatersrand Basin, as well as develop and fund a long-term solution to tackling acid-mine drainage.

Outside of the Witwatersrand, acid mine drainage has been reported from a number of other areas in South Africa as well, including coalfields in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape’s Okiep copper district.

Acid mine drainage contaminates groundwater and leads to increased seismic activity, among other things.

Enforcement of National Water Act

In his presentation, Matji said his department’s idea was to fund the cleanup of acid-mine drainage through the enforcement of the National Water Act and other Acts and measures.

The various measures proposed include: an acid mine drainage levy on mines; a penalty for water sources levied on industries and water treatment works; a penalty for water pollution from non-point sources such as agriculture; fines on general environmental pollution and penalties levied on businesses and organisations for non-compliance at various levels.

The idea of an environmental levy and a management process to mitigate long-term effects of acid mine drainage was mooted in the inter-ministerial committee’s report on acid mine drainage, released in December last year.

Matji said National Treasury had also recently met with the US Trade and Development Agency to discuss the possibly of the agency financing a study and tour of the USA by South African officials.

Such a tour would help officials to gain insight into how the US’s “super fund” tackles environmental management, while providing for an opportunity for South Africa to assess various technical resources in the US.

Clear responsibilities needed

The committee’s chairman, Johnny de Lange, welcomed the idea of a private-public partnership, but cautioned that it was necessary for the three departments, state-owned companies and the private sector, to work together to create an institutional arrangement that could award clear responsibilities to each partner.

In line with the findings of the inter-ministerial commission’s report, de Lange also cautioned that the government’s current approach to treating acid mine drainage by diluting polluted rivers with fresh water was problematic, as the high salt content could still kill a river even while bringing the problem of acid mine drainage under control.

The government’s current strategy is to only begin the more expensive route of desalination in 2014.

De Lange said neutralisation, coupled with a private-public partnership, was a solution if the treated water could be sold to and used by mines and industries, rather than being channelled back into the river.

Feasibility study

Matji said to date, private institutions had committed R78-million, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) R5-million and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) a further R10-million to tackle long-term acid mine drainage.

The government has allocated a total of R553-million over the next three years to treat the acid mine drainage problem.

The Department of Mineral Resources has allocated R328-million to combat acid mine drainage (which includes R200-million in transfers to the Council for Geo-Science and Mintek) and R225-million to the Department of Water Affairs.

De Lange said a long-term strategy to tackle acid mine drainage is expected to be released next month after the conclusion of a feasibility study by the Department of Water Affairs on treating acid mine drainage.

Source: BuaNews