Northern Cape groundwater under mining pressure

Farmers in Northern Cape are highly concerned about the effect of the mining industry on the province’s water supply.

The expansion of mines in and around Kathu, Kuruman, Postmasburg and Hotazel has already put pressure on groundwater levels, according to Willie Uys, who farms near Postmasburg. Uys has been lobbying legislators on the issue in Northern Cape since 2002 and has served on the water forums of the Kumba, Khumani and Kolomela mines.

The ongoing and large-scale removal of groundwater by the mines was having a dramatic impact on agriculture, he said.  “Groundwater is pumped from the iron ore mines. The result is that some farms close to the mines have been left virtually waterless since the boreholes ran dry,” he explained.

“The mines are buying up these farms at ridiculous prices, which distorts land values. The average price for extensive livestock land here is about R3 000/ha, while the mines recently paid as much as R9 500/ha. A significant number of farmers have left the industry.”

Kobus Streuder, project manager at the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) in Kimberley, said the mines had licences for the so-called de-watering, which is a safety measure. He added that the volume extracted was strictly controlled because of the aridity of the area, and the effect of the de-watering on water sources and the environment was monitored.

The mines were allowed a percentage of the water for their own use, and the rest was pumped back into the Vaal Gamagara goverment water supply scheme. However, mining developments had increased to such an extent that the department and local bulk water supplier Sedibeng Water now had to explore alternatives.

According to Streuder, the DWA and Sedibeng Water had consequently decided to evaluate the feasibility of groundwater sources as an additional sustainable source for the Vaal Gamagara scheme. This was only one of several possibilities, however.

“This is just a study. Nothing has been decided yet, but we’ll have to find alternatives to be able to meet the water requirements for the next 20 years. And farmers can rest assured because SA legislation makes it very clear that water for humans and livestock enjoys first priority,” he said.

The feasibility study will be conducted in two phases over three years. Landowners will be contacted personally before any investigations are done on their land. The companies WorleyParsons and Golder Associates have been appointed by Sedibeng Water to do the research.