Two items which should concern us is the evidence of the mounting pollution of the Vaal System via the Blesbokspruit and the reckless behaviour of the DWS Minister in the uplifting of the suspension of the water use licence for the WPB Colliery at the head of the Elands River and at the centre of a protected area.
I visited this popular birding site last Sunday and for the first time in about 25 years. Although the bird population looked satisfactory, in the water the only fish species I could see was the tough sharp-toothed catfish whereas I clearly remember large schools of yellows on my previous visit. Naturally I wondered whether increased pollution had put paid to the yellowfish at this Ramsar site so I contacted Mariette Liefferink of the FSE (Federation for a Sustainable Environment). who immediately replied as follows:
“The DWS is currently pumping more than 100 million litres per day of acid mine water, containing a broad spectrum of metals in toxic concentrations including radioactive metals, from the Eastern Basin, neutralising the water (a pH adjustment - the water is therefore no longer acidic but alkaline; the metals have not disappeared but simply changed into a different oxidation state; the metals can again be mobilised and solubilized if the water becomes acidic) and discharges the same amount into the Blesbokspruit. The water quality results which I have received in response to a PAIA request, show sulphate levels of between 1 000 and 2 000 mg/l. The regulatory standard is 600mg/l for the Vaal River Catchment. The neutralised water is therefore unfit for any use. The metal sludge from the neutralisation process is then pumped into the old Grootvlei Shaft. I attach my comments on the current treatment of AMD hereto if you have an interest.”
If anyone would like to see Mariette’s comments please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This case almost mirrors in many respects the infamous Mabola one near Wakkerstroom/Volksrust in that it is a proposed open cast coal mine between Belfast and Dullstroom at the head of the Elands River and is completely surrounded by the recently declared Greater Lakenvlei Protected Environment. In addition, the fact that a defunct and old small coal working at the site has been decanting AMD into a small tributary is also disregarded by the DMR and DWS. Opposition to this mine since 2011 comprises a number of well known environmental NGO’s, landowners and the local farmers association who appealed the mining right in 2012 but still have to receive the ROD from the DMR. They also appealed the water use licence in 2015 which automatically suspended this licence.
Apart from endangering water security, the environmental integrity of the Dullstroom plateau and the whole tourist industry and the 1 100 permanent hospitality jobs and 280 part-time jobs the Elands River harbours a unique and thriving population of smallscale yellows from Waterval Boven downstream.
The Minister’s letter to Dr Pretorius of the FSE which justifies uplifting the suspension states that WPB has been granted all the necessary authorisations and that the suspension is highly prejudicial to millions in investments and much needed local jobs and that the upliftment is pending the finalization of the appeal by the Water Tribunal.
What the letter ignores of course is that the Minister has recently announced that the Water Tribunal will be closed, the miner illegally started mining in April 2017 with water use licence still in suspension, without the land being rezoned, without environmental authorization plus a number of other offences. The mining was halted within 2 weeks when the threat of an urgent interdict was sent to the miner’s lawyers. Since then the municipality has confirmed in writing that there was no application for rezoning and the DMR’s brown scorpions have agreed verbally that the initial mining caused environmental damage but whether either party will prosecute is still to be seen.
Having been advised of the upliftment the miner has announced that he will proceed again so his lawyers have been advised that any action will trigger the urgent interdict which is now in place.
All this means money and R160 000 has been raised so far to fight this case but considerably more will be required if it goes to court. Virtually all the funds so far have come from the trout industry but the net will have to cast much further if more money required.
I doubt whether any of this surprises you and once again it is almost solely up to civil society to take up the cause at great cost.
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