Mines are 'real polluters' in looming Vaal water crisis
IT WAS concerning that the Department of Water Affairs chose to lay a large portion of the blame for the Vaal River system's looming water crisis at agriculture's door, Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, said on Friday.
The department said this week that farmers were "the biggest culprits" in the unlawful use of 44-million cubic metres from the water system that is most crucial to South Africa's wellbeing as it supplies water to 60% of the country's economy and 45% of the population.
This includes Gauteng, the mines and industry on the Mpumalanga highveld, the bulk of Eskom's coal-fired power stations, the North West and Free State gold fields and Kimberley.
Acid mine drainage, municipal water losses and farmers' unlawful water use were all putting the Vaal River system at risk, the department said.
But Ms Liefferink said: "Most of the pollution in the upper Vaal is caused by mines. I am very perplexed that the Department of Water Affairs would lay the blame on the agricultural sector when the mines are the real polluters."
The Federation for a Sustainable Environment is a nongovernmental organisation aimed at improving the sustainability of the development decisions South Africa makes. It has for several years campaigned against acid mine drainage and is credited with bringing the issue, identified as a problem by scientists in the 1950s, to the fore in recent years.
It is projected that South Africa could run out of water by 2025, and Gauteng - the economic hub of South Africa and the continent - as early as 2015.
To sustain supply to the system, South Africa needs to, among other things, eradicate unlawful irrigation by next year and implement the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project so that it delivers water to the Vaal River system by 2020.
The system's strategy steering committee said in a report that the country also had to treat mine effluent to potable standard and "optimise the reuse of return flows over the longer term".
Unlawful irrigation was putting the Vaal system's supply balance at "significant risk", the department said.
Department of Water Affairs spokeswoman Linda Page said unlawful water use in the system was estimated at 244-million cubic metres last year and "we know that the biggest culprits are farmers in this area".
Ms Page said that while "good progress had been made with the validation and verification of water use in all three of the Vaal water management areas", the target for the eradication of unlawful water use would not be met as planned by the end of this year.
Instead, the department aimed "to address two-thirds of possible unlawful use by May 2013 and the remainder soon thereafter".
"Nonrevenue water" - not billed for by municipalities through loss and errors - comprised about 36% of total water use, or about 1,5-million cubic metres a year, according to the latest figures, she said.
"Curbing water losses from municipal water supply systems remains a key strategic action. To drive this intervention, the department has set a target of saving a total of 15% by 2015 (Project 2015) based on individual targets that were set for all the municipalities," the department said in a statement.
Mthobeli Kolisa, municipal infrastructure services executive director at the South African Local Government Association, said the association wanted an "infrastructure refurbishment fund" to help it leverage private-sector investment. There was a R33bn electricity maintenance backlog, much of which municipalities had to find via tariffs.
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