Stock image of mine water.

South Africa’s Draft Mine Water Management Policy is now open for public comment.

The Department of Water and Sanitation gazetted the policy last week, with the comments window open for a 60 day period. This period began on 14 July and will end on 14 September, the department said on Sunday.

Draft policy

The draft policy, which was approved by Cabinet in March, seeks to hold parties potentially liable for negative effects and damages of acid mine drainage, related pollution and any other negative impacts that can be related to it.

The department said the policy also seeks to propose mechanisms that mining houses should explore to better manage their water.

“The finalisation of this policy is to ensure improved water quality management and reduction of water pollution including through acid mine drainage (AMD) and is part of the critical elements of the sustainable socio-economic development path of South Africa,” department spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said.

“The mine water management policy strives to strengthen the protection of water resources from mine water contamination from short to long term,” he added.

The department said it will soon hold consultation workshops in all nine provinces to discuss the policy further.

Acid mine drainage

The flow of water from old mining areas has in the past presented problems for water streams in South Africa.

This water, which contains high levels of toxins and heavy metals, finds its way into underground water supplies, and often pollutes streams and rivers.

This year, government sought long term solutions to this problem. This was seen in the implementation of the Eastern Basin’s acid mine drainage treatment plant in Gauteng which was launched in February. The department said it was among the largest plants in the world and costs billions to construct.

Water and Sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane has in previous interviews said the problem of acid mine drainage “can no longer be avoided and left unattended”. There have also been calls from the department for the water sector to be more “innovative and excited about solving our issue of water”.

Mokonyane said that by overcoming the challenges of acid mine drainage, it would significantly help to secure South Africa’s water future.

She added that with the country in the grips of a devastating drought, water sources are already under threat.

The department said the introduction of the Eastern Basin acid mine drainage plant in particular was a part of government’s plans to secure the future of water in Gauteng for the next 30 years.