The Department of Water and Sanitation says it will soon establish a water management unit as a step towards dealing with the problem of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in South Africa.

This was revealed on Monday during a meeting held in Pretoria between departmental officials, representatives from the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Environmental Affairs and water experts from Non-Governmental Organisations.

The unit will work with other government departments and water stakeholders to tackle the problem head on. This might result in a policy review or a re-alignment of how AMD is managed.

Mine Water Management

Mine Water Management, including AMD, has for many years now been a major environmental challenge to deal with in the mining sector.

The meeting noted that while South Africa has made significant progress in shifting policy frameworks to planning and water authorisation for mining as well as promotion of better mine water management, vulnerabilities in the current policies still remain.

“The reason why we should be concerned about mine water, is simply that the acid contaminant and associated dissolved metals are toxic to most forms of organisms and pose a risk to human health and aquatic, or water-dependent ecosystems,” a joint statement from the meeting read.

It further noted that the current legal and policy context did not draw a clear distinction between the handling and regulation of new, active and historic mines, including abandoned mines.

It also did not impose special and/or stricter measures in the case of mines with a significant adverse impact potential. Specific conditions should be imposed on mines that have an acid generation potential.

Policy to deal with acid management

Among the proposed policy principles to deal with acid management included an integrated approach to mining closure, apportionment of liabilities, optimum use of best available technology, classification and differentiation of mines, promotion of sustainable mine development, as well as duty of care.

The delegates noted that Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane was empowered by the National Water Act to put measures for water resource protection, including measures to prevent pollution and remedy the effects of pollution of water resources.