Acid drainage proposals out soon

[] — A TASK team of experts considering proposals to counter an imminent acid mine water crisis in the Witwatersrand will have a report ready by the end of the week.

Experts involved said it was already too late to prevent the rising acid effluent causing an environmental disaster by February 2012 – because with its pH levels of between 2 and 3, it would be slightly more acid than vinegar – when it reaches natural groundwater sources.

The acid water also contains toxic heavy metals such as iron, manganese and aluminium.

The contaminated water will begin to flow out of the Cinderella East shaft near the Boksburg central business district at an average rate of 57 megalitres (57 million litres) per day, a few weeks after it has reached groundwater sources.

The report, with proposals on how to prevent the disaster, will be handed to the directors general of mineral resources and water affairs at the end of this week, whose approval is needed before it can be considered by the relevant interministerial committee.

On Monday Marius Keet, regional director of water affairs in Gauteng, spelt out the process required before action could be taken to implement any proposal.

In response to enquiries from Sake24, Keet said there was more than one solution to prevent the rising acid mine water under Johannesburg reaching the critical environmental level by February 2012. However, he declined to provide information about any proposal other than the one offered by the Western Utility Corporation, according to which the water could be purified and sold.

The technical team’s report will be presented to a specially appointed interministerial cabinet committee by the two directors general, Nobubele Ngele of water affairs and Sandile Nogxina of mineral resources.

The group of cabinet members – comprising Trevor Manuel, the minister tasked with the national planning commission in the presidency, Susan Shabangu of mineral resources, Edna Molewa of water and environmental affairs and Naledi Pandor of science and technology – will, it is hoped, approve the proposals in the report, which will then be presented to the full cabinet.

Only then will contractors be able to start building a pump station about 400m below ground in ERPM’s South-West Vertical (SWV) shaft just south of Germiston’s central business district.

At the same time, restoration work has to start on an enormous old purification plant beside the shaft which has not been used since October 2008.

Experts previously told Sake24 that this work would take an absolute minimum of 14 months, but Keet said there was still enough time to do it before the critical environmental level of 150m below the surface of the SWV shaft was reached.

Members of the team of experts Sake24 spoke to on Monday would not venture to say whether it was still possible to carry out the emergency project. Things would have to happen fast, said one on condition of anonymity.

The chairperson of the team of experts is Thibedi Ramontja, who chairs the Council for Geoscience. He was not available to comment on the issue at the time of going to print.