Mines and water: the battle continues

The increasing demand for water, pollution caused by mining and dysfunctional municipal sewerage systems were some of the main challenges to water quality.

- Advertisement -

Both Louis Meintjes, TAU SA president and Nic Opperman, Agri SA director of natural resources, expected the water situation to worsen in the next year. “The impact that mining has – especially open-cast mining in the Mpumalanga Highveld – on our water resources is of great concern as this damages the area’s high potential soils,” said Opperman.

About 46% of SA’s high potential arable land is in Mpumalanga, where mines have already reduced crop lands by 26% since 1997. This was according to a report compiled by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy. Meintjes said it appeared that government was determined to give mining companies water licences, even though it said water rights had been over-allocated.

“Government says agriculture uses 65% of the water, yet contributed less than 12% to the country’s GDP so they want to take water away from agriculture,” said Meintjes. “But government still says the country has to be food secure.” Meintjes said that the mines in Mpumalanga and Limpopo would increasingly put water resources under severe pressure and push more agricultural land out of production.

- Advertisement -

He said in the National Development Plan government planned to put about 500 000ha of land under irrigation. However, it did not show where it was going to find water to do so. Opperman said the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN), an initiative started by the private sector and mandated by Water Affairs minister Edna Molewa, was working at enhancing the co-ordination of efforts to close the water volume gap in the country by 2030.

Dr Anthony Turton, former CSIR water researcher and Touchstone Resources director meanwhile said the seepage of acid mine drainage (AMD) at the western basin of Johannesburg had completely stopped.