Gauteng and NW Province

Vaal River polluted by 2014

Katharine Child | 06 March, 2012

The Department of Water Affairs’ emergency solution to the acid mine drainage crisis in Gauteng will leave the Vaal River so polluted that its water will not be fit for human consumption within two years.

Emergency water treatment is already taking place on the West Rand, where millions of litres of polluted water are pouring out of mines every day.

The water is neutralised, which removes the acid and heavy metals from it.

But sulphates remain in the water in high quantities, according to the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority parastatal, which was asked by Water Affairs to deal with acid mine drainage.

The polluted water and sulphates are pumped into streams that flow into the Vaal.

Department of Water Affairs spokesman Mandla Mathebula confirmed that reports show that the Vaal River will be polluted and unfit for human consumption by 2014 if the current neutralisation solution continues being used.

Analyst Richard Holden, who works for the TCTA says the acid mine water in the Central basin of Gauteng will most likely reach environmental critical levels (come out of the ground) by July 2013. Holden said an exact date that acid mine drainage will decant is hard to determine because it is unclear exactly what is happening hundreds of metres under the ground.

The Department of Water Affairs plans to have pumps in the central basin, which runs from Roodepoort in the West to Germiston in the East, by next year July 2013.

The water will be pumped out of the mines, the acid and heavy metals will be removed from it and it will be pumped into streams that flow into the Vaal River system.

Sulphates and salts will remain in the water at an estimated rate of 2500 ml of sulphates per litre of water. .
Because sulphates will be in the water, reports from The Department of Water Affairs show the Vaal dam will be so polluted by 2014, that water from the Vaal dam will be needed to be added to dilute it.

Should there be a drought, which Holden says is long overdue, there will be severe water restrictions on water from the Vaal that is used by Mpumalanga mines, Rustenburg mines in the North West and Gauteng.

A drought would decrease levels in the Vaal dam and at the same time millions of litres of clean water would need to be added to the polluted upper Vaal.

The pollution of the Upper Vaal could “impact on mines in 6 provinces and will result in increased treatment costs and curtailed production due to restricted water supplies” said Holden.

“Although“ it has not been possible to hold the mining industry liable for the problems caused by acid mine drainage , the mining industry will be directly impacted by the Upper Vaal going into deficit ( becoming too polluted for industry and use and human consumption, according to a report by Holden.

“In order to prevent the problems, but without admitting liability, it is suggested that the mining industry makes a capital contribution of up to 3,45 billion towards the construction of the long- term solution.”

The long term solution is called desalination. It means removal of salts from the water so that it is fit for drinking and industry. The current solution that is being proposed by the TCTA is neutralization
It takes two years to build desalination plants, said The Federation for Sustainable Environments Koos Pretorius.

Pretorius said the Upper Vaal will be polluted by sulphates by 2014 as depicted in graphs from Water Affairs documents, but desalination plants will not be ready until at least a year later.

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