Metros' poison pill

25 April 2016 - 02:15 By Olebogeng Molatlhwa and Azizzar Mosupi

This is one of several options for funding the fight against widespread pollution by acid water draining from mines being considered by the Department of Water and Sanitation before it makes its recommendation to the cabinet.News of the likelihood of yet another big government dip into the wallets of Gauteng people, already burdened by e-tolling, will not be well received.The proposal has already been slated by opposition parties and ratepayers' associations.A recent estimate has put a R10-billion price tag on the cost of treating the province's acid mine water to render it relatively harmless.Though the national government had indicated that it would carry the entire cost of treating acid mine water, it is now proposing to fund only two-thirds of the project, leaving Gauteng municipalities to cover the remaining R3.3-billion.Municipalities that draw water from the upper Vaal River catchment area will have to pay the remaining third, probably through increased charges on their residents for the supply of water.Department of Water and Sanitation spokesman Sputnik Ratau said that a final decision on the funding model had not yet been determined but the department would follow "the proper consultation processes"."Since ... mine water is considered a resource that, if treated adequately and used beneficially, can augment the [upper] Vaal River system yield, and thus contribute to water security, an estimated 30% cost for treatment [will be] apportioned to all [upper] Vaal River system clients. This would include industry, mines and agriculture," he said.Gauteng's acid mine drainage problem is historic and has become a concern over time as the level of the underground acid water rises, threatening to contaminate clean water sources.Many of the mines from which the water is seeping have been closed or changed hands over the years, leaving the government stuck with dealing with the problem.The chairman of the Independent Ratepayers' Association of SA, Izak Berg, said an additional charge was too much for residents to bear."The national government has not done its work and now we are running into problems ," he said.Wayne Duvenage, chairman of NGO Undoing Tax Abuse, said a new water-treatment tax would anger residents."What we have now is a last-minute rush to once again fix issues that should have been handled and managed efficiently by the government in the first place. It goes to show, again, a lack of efficient governance," he said.The possibility that Gauteng residents will have to carry a big part of the cost of treating acid mine water emerged during a meeting of the environment and infrastructure services committee of the City of Johannesburg on April 12.After the meeting, Johannesburg Water spokesman David Sibiya said: "What was mentioned to the committee was that the upper Vaal River system users had to pay for a third of the acid mine drainage cost because the Treasury indicated it will pay for two-thirds."The department has warned that failure to invest in restoring acid mine water to drinkable quality would necessitate a major, entirely new infrastructure project in future the cost of which would be prohibitive.The DA's Gauteng environmental affairs spokesman, Janho Engelbrecht, said the solution should come from mining houses and the government."These companies profited from exploiting the minerals and now they are not prepared to do anything about it," he said.The EFF's Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said: "All of that must come from the mine. None of our individual taxpayers should foot the bill."

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