Environmental disaster looms at Loskop Dam

According to environmentalists, researchers and farmers in the area surrounding Loskop Dam in Mpumalanga, dead fish and crocodiles at the dam’s inflow are the first signs of a looming tragedy.

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Over the years mine and sewage waste, and pollution have been flowing into the dam at a steady rate, said Albert Driescher of the Loskop Dam Nature Reserve. “At the moment Loskop works as a filter. For years heavy metals such as mercury have sunk to the bottom of the dam. As soon as the water in the dam becomes too acidic, the metals dissolve and the water becomes toxic,” he explained.

When this happens all creatures dependent on the dam’s water will die. Driescher pointed out that this will be a disaster not only for nature conservation, but also for agriculture, as Loskop is mainly an irrigation dam. Gerhard Landman, who farms about 40km upstream from the dam, is already suffering the consequences of polluters’ actions. He said if the mines in the area were diamond or iron instead of coal, the impact would not be as harsh. “The water pH ranges between 5 and 3,4 in some places,” he said. Neutral water has a pH of around 6,57.

On 3 May 2007 an unusual occurrence took place on Landman’s farm, about 40km upstream from Loskop Dam on the banks of Saalklapspruit. That day the water Ph was between 2,7 and 2,9 – vinegar usually has a pH of around 3.

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Turquoise-white water started pouring down the river, Landman recalls. About two days later the river turned red. Landman’s cattle refused to drink the river water and several animals developed diarrhoea. He decided to use water pumped from another source for his cattle, and now only uses river water to clean stables. Besides the mine water that is spilled into the river, there are five sewage plants in Witbank that are dumping raw sewage into the river, according to Driescher. He noticed this when he visited the town’s sewage plants at the beginning of March.

What makes matters even worse is the fact that the numerous power stations in the area emit large quantities of smoke – the sort that helps to create acid rain. – Susan Botes