NONCOMPLIANCE: Fifty-three mines are said to be operating without  water licences. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
NONCOMPLIANCE: Fifty-three mines are said to be operating without water licences. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

THE projected costs of initially solving the Witwatersrand’s acid mine drainage problem have more than doubled to R2.2bn, says Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.

The Treasury has allocated R433m to sort out the acid mine water that has already polluted the region’s western basin. Experts say acid mine water could decant into the central basin, which encompasses parts of Johannesburg, within a year and the eastern basins soon after that.

"Since the appointment of the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority to implement emergency acid mine drainage mitigation measures, preliminary findings guided by a due diligence estimated the capital cost for the short-term solution in all three basins at R924m as at July 2011," Ms Molewa said on Thursday in reply to a parliamentary question.

"Subsequent to the evaluation of bids and a comprehensive costing exercise, the actual cost was determined at R2.2bn as at June 2012."

Acid mine water causes ecological degradation, and compromises human and animal health. Earlier this year the Mpumalanga town of Carolina lost its municipal water supply when acid mine water polluted the town’s dam.

Ms Molewa said the increase in costs was, among others, due to "currency fluctuations, engineering design changes due to unforeseen technical challenges, increase in the contingency provisions and inclusion of operating and treatments costs".

The tunnel authority was ready to tender for the construction of a neutralisation plant in each basin, subject to funding being made available. The funding would come from budget reprioritisation and savings in her department, Ms Molewa said.

The authority’s short-term solution involves pumping acid mine water to below the "environmentally critical level" and neutralising polluted water.

Democratic Alliance water and environmental affairs spokesman Gareth Morgan said on Thursday he could not see how the shortfall would be funded from the department making savings or reprioritising spending.

"The department’s core function is to provide bulk water infrastructure, and considering the backlogs in new infrastructure and maintenance, there cannot possibly be reprioritisation that would happen without jeopardising another important area," Mr Morgan said.

"A strict interpretation of the law would mean the polluters are liable. Knocking on the taxpayers’ door for more money, when there are so many competing needs in South Africa, will not fly.

"The department must find ways to get the operating mines to contribute to the set-up costs for the short-term and long-term solutions," he said.

Ms Molewa said earlier this week the Department of Water Affairs had a R338bn funding gap and that South Africa needed to spend R670bn on its water sector over the next 10 years. The Treasury said there was no extra money.

Federation for a Sustainable Environment director Koos Pretorius said that the government should use legislation that allowed it to "unlock" funds set aside by mining houses for pollution rehabilitation.

Webber Wentzel mining law expert Peter Leon said while Mr Pretorius made a fair point, the legislation for those trusts were promulgated in 1992 and many of the polluter mines had gone out of business or had been liquidated.

Until recently the amounts set aside for pollution were "very, very minimal and I just wonder how much money there is", Mr Leon said.