Water users must be treated equally

The Department of Water Affairs’ announcement that it will take action against farmers illegally using water from the Vaal River should be broadened to include members of the mining industry.

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This is according to the Federation for a Sustainable Environment’s Mariette Liefferink. She said illegal mining was responsible for large-scale water use and pollution in the Upper and Mid Vaal. “The impact of illegal mining is long-lasting. I find it strange that the department did not include the mining industry in its announcement.”

Water Affairs spokesperson Linda Page said in a press statement that farmers’ illegal use of water from the Upper Vaal posed the biggest threat to Gauteng’s water security. Liefferink is concerned about the large number of pending coal mining applications along the Upper Vaal. She said this would put even more pressure on the already compromised river. Watercourses such as the Wonderfonteinspruit, Klipspruit and Blesbokspruit have already been severely affected by the mining industry.

“This poses a serious threat to water quality. Not only do we have to deal with the historic impact of the gold mining industry, we face a new threat from coal mining. That is why it is vital that the authorities should act on all water users, not only on the agricultural industry.”

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Irrigation farmer Wessel van der Merwe, from Vaalharts, called on the department to act on farmers who use water illegally. He said water was a national asset and its use was regulated in terms of licences issued to users. The department should therefore treat all users accordingly he said. “The agricultural industry is the largest user of bulk water in the country, but we use it to produce food sustainably. We are not responsible for the large-scale water pollution that impacts directly on the lives of people.”