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

The government yesterday put a short-term price tag for dealing with acid mine drainage (AMD) on the Witwatersrand at R442 million in capital costs, rising to R1.08 billion over the long term.

It also identified R121m a year in operating costs to deal with the problem. However, the figures, outlined in a specialist report on AMD completed in December and released yesterday, exclude medium- to long-term desalination options.

Desalination costs, which will be dependent on technology choices, are likely to run into billions of rands and will almost certainly involve some form of private sector liability.

In his Budget on Wednesday, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan allocated R225m over three years to deal with AMD, more than half of which (R117m) has been earmarked for managing AMD at the Grootvlei gold mine on the eastern Wits basin.

Water scientist Anthony Turton, suspended from the CSIR in 2008 after warning of a local water crisis, yesterday welcomed the government’s recognition that the problem required financial intervention. He believed the costs announced yesterday were “an indication of intent, rather than a final number”.

The report, released after 43 environmental groups submitted an application under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, listed two options for public-private partnerships to secure finances for treating AMD on the Witwatersrand.

First, the state could fund and operate measures to manage AMD, with the mining industry contributing some costs in the short term. In the long term, it recommended an environmental levy on operating mines should be considered, alongside funding from raw water tariffs and waste discharge charges.

Second, the report proposed the private sector could treat AMD for sale to the market, although this would probably require a state subsidy.

The report cautioned against unfairly passing the costs of pollution by historical mining activities on to other water users. It pointed out that the shortfall between treatment costs and selling prices could be reduced to some extent by selling by-products of AMD such as gypsum, sulphur, sulphuric acid, explosives and fertilisers. - Ingi Salgado