8764 2010.6.22 A game reserve on the Tweelopiesspruit near Krugersdorp, West Rand, is the recipient of untreated acid mine drainage. Dams into which this heavy metalled water runs lost all their fish a long time ago, but hippo still live here and there are concerns serious concerns for their health. The reeds filter the water, but not enough to prevent catastrophic damage. Picture: Cara Viereckl

Johannesburg - South Africa needs to spend as much as $1 billion (R10.5 billion) to make toxic water leaking from abandoned mine shafts drinkable, the Department of Water Affairs said.

While the government and mines would foot part of the bill, the cost would mostly fall on consumers, said Marius Keet, acting chief director of the department’s office in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, the country’s biggest city.

South Africa is the 30th-driest nation on Earth with domestic and industrial demand outstripping supplies as early as 2025 if trends continue, government projections show.

South Africa is battling acid mine drainage, which occurs when water that floods cavernous areas that have been mined for gold becomes infiltrated with toxic chemicals, including uranium, and leaks into rivers.

About 6,000 abandoned mines litter the country, many of them gold mines.

Few environmental regulations were in place until the mid-1990s.

The estimated spending of 9 billion rand to 10 billion rand will be enough to “neutralise the water and also desalinate” it, Keet said in an April 7 interview.

“That will make available 150 million litres (40 million gallons) per day, which is potable-quality standard, and it will also reduce the water we’re currently using from Lesotho.”

There may not be necessarily be large tariff increases for consumers to pay for the treatment plants because more water would be made available through the treatment, offsetting the cost of imports from Lesotho, Keet said.


Lesotho Imports


Rand Water Services, which supplies four billion litres a day to Johannesburg and surrounding towns, pays for water from the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, an enclave in South Africa that lies south of Johannesburg.

It has to import five litres for every litre of acid mine water discharged into rivers to dilute away the toxic chemicals, Keet said.

Treating the minewater would reduce the cost of these imports, he said.

A treatment plant for acid mine water in Germiston, east of Johannesburg, is currently in the commissioning phase, Keet said.

It will cost about 1 billion rand in total, with a third of that cost borne by mining companies, he said.

DRDGold, Central Rand Gold and Gold One International are mining companies that have committed to helping the government pay for treated polluted water, Keet said. - Bloomberg News