Water permits & mining

I refer to the granting of mining rights and water permits to Coal of Africa’s Vele colliery by our government.

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Among the list of major concerns and objections that were originally raised was the issue of water. I wonder to what extent the Department of Water Affairs assesses the viability and sustainability of water resources and whether decisions simply hinge on so-called economic and political expediency and not the full impact on environmental good sense and sustainability of resources.

The Limpopo River is not a perennial river and mostly only runs (and sometimes floods) when summer rain falls on the Highveld. The demands on the river from South African users alone must be huge. It is said that there are about 200 dams and weirs on the Limpopo before the river reaches the Zimbabwe border.

Right now, as can be seen from the above photograph, one can walk across the riverbed (not far from Pont Drift) to Zimbabwe. Pools do exist, as well as, I guess, some underground water, but the demands must be reducing the underground flow/reservoir. It has been reported that riverine trees on the banks of the Limpopo are dying.

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The northern Limpopo and Tuli areas (in Botswana and Zimbabwe) have received virtually no rain this past season. Water from localised rains has therefore not recharged the groundwater, notwithstanding the desired flow of water from upstream and the Highveld.

Everyone is affected
The sustainability of water resources is vital for farming in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, as well as users downstream in Mozambique. It is absurd to use precious water for washing of coal (mainly), and other mining usage that requires huge amounts of water daily. I would like to know if the Department of Water Affairs has had formal discussions with Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique about drawing off large volumes of water from the Limpopo.

Even if they have, this river with only a seasonal flow will not be sustainable for such daily consumption requirements. It may also mean that expanding irrigation farming is denuding the resource as well. Accurate usage figures need to be made known and complied with. How is it measured and how are controls exercised? One only has to see the hundreds of dead mature trees around the original flood plains near the Den Staat road near Pont Drift/Mapungubwe National Park to wonder what is going on.

Has the water table dropped or are they also being starved of water, and this is still upstream of the Venetia and Vele mining water operations? When natural signs become obvious, then it is time for serious action. The Limpopo River is not a Zambezi or Orange River.