Rains cause acid mine water to flood

2014-03-10 00:00

MILLIONS of litres of acid mine water streamed from a disused ventilation shaft on the West Rand after heavy rains in the area last week.

This after the taxpayer last week paid more than R300 million to prevent this acid water, which has filled mined out sections, from coming to the surface.

About 20 million litres of acid water have flowed into a stream that flows through the municipal game park in Krugersdorp before ending up in Hartbeespoort dam.

Marius Keet, senior manager of mine water at the Department of Water Affairs, on Friday described the overflow as a disaster. It was a repeat of an acid water overflow that happened in January 2012.

Acid mine water happens when normal water oxidises with the sulphide mineral iron pyrite, better known as fool’s gold. The water then fills the mine and starts decanting into the environment, in a process known as acid mine drainage.

Contractors to the department have worked since 2012 to pump the water — which had been seeping out of this ventilation shaft since 2002 — to a treatment plant, where lime is added to neutralise the water’s Ph level before releasing it into the river system.

Mariette Liefferink, chief executive director of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE), said yesterday all the millions of rands spent to treat the water with tons of lime was now water down the drain.

Keet said the department had done everything in its power to prevent the disaster but could only treat 30 million litres of acid water.

“We need more pumps. We did not realise so much water would stream out of [the shaft]. The heavy rains. The heavy rains took us by surprise.”

Keet said the Department of Water Affairs had already met with Mintails, a mining group, to help contain the overflow. The Mintails group is reworking the mine dumps to recover gold from the waste.

Water expert Tony Turton said on his Facebook page it is time for South Africans to rethink the acid water crisis on the Reef.

He said the steps taken to date had failed. “How will we ever justify it to the taxpayer? We did everything we could, but Mother Nature hit back.”

Meanwhile, pumps to treat acid water in the Boksburg basin will start to work on Friday, while an environmental impact study for a acid water treatment plant on the East Rand has recently started.

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