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DWS outlines response progress on Jagersfontein tailings dam collapse investigation

13th September 2023

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has concluded the processes to finalise evidence gathering and collect scientific and engineering information in the wake of the collapse of the tailings dam in Jagersfontein, in the Kopanong local municipality, in the Free State, on September 11, 2022.

In response to the collapse of the Jagersfontein tailings storage facility (TSF), the DWS had opened a criminal case on November 4, 2022, against the Jagersfontein Development mining company, in terms of Section 151 of the National Water Act (NWA) of 1998, pertaining to the release of a substance (such as slimes/mine process waste materials) that pollutes or has the potential to pollute water resources.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, a year after the disaster, the department said it intends issuing a warning statement to the alleged transgressor before the file is handed to National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

The tailings dam collapse, which resulted in fatalities, destroyed homes and polluted the environment and water resources, led the DWS to take an approach to hold those responsible accountable, to rehabilitate polluted water resources and to restore water and sanitation services in the area, as well as prevent similar tragedies from happening elsewhere in South Africa.

Among the several DWS-issued directives to Jagersfontein Development, is the instruction that the mine appoint an approved professional person (APP) to oversee the immediate emptying of the remaining compartment 2 of the TSF, which still contains a significant volume of tailings, to avoid a secondary disaster from occurring.

The APP, who will also assist Jagersfontein Development in the decommissioning of the entire tailings dam, conducted a dam breach analysis to ascertain the level of risk that would be experienced should the remaining compartment 2 fail and a report detailing the level of risk that still existed was submitted to the department.

The process of decanting compartment 2 started in August 2023 and, until the decanting process has been completed, the tailings dam is regarded as unsafe, the DWS said in the update.

DWS further issued a directive to the company to rehabilitate and restore the watercourses, including the Wolwas dam, Kromellenboog river, Proses spruit, Riet river and the Kalkfontein dam, that were affected by the slimes owing to the dam failure.

Ongoing work includes the containment of currently deposited slimes by placing structures such as retaining walls, weirs, rock packs and silt fences; removing sludge from preferential flow paths and dams; and removing sludge from slopes, banks and adjacent landscapes or applying bioremediation.

“The department is also monitoring the impact on the quality of surface and groundwater sources as a result of the incident, by assessing monthly water quality results submitted by Jagersfontein Development as per the department’s directive. The department can confirm progress on the clearing of residue in the water courses and improving test results in terms of water quality.”

Further, the DWS is working with the Kopanong local municipality to restore water and sanitation services and is providing support through its Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant (RBIG) and Water Services Infrastructure Grant (WSIG) to address water and sanitation challenges in the municipality.

In this financial year, the department allocated R2-million from the RBIG and R16.8-million from the WSIG to the municipality.

Through the RBIG, the Jagersfontein water treatment works, which supplies potable water for the community in the area, has been upgraded from two megalitres a day to four megalitres a day to meet the demand.

Through support from the Jagersfontein Development mine, the Jagersfontein wastewater treatment works has also been refurbished.

“Jagersfontein water and sanitation services interventions form part of the Xhariep District Five Year Reliable Water Services Master Plan which includes a turnaround strategy for Kopanong municipality,” the DWS said in the statement.

“The strategy seeks to bring a much-needed permanent solution for the water and sanitation challenges experienced in the municipality, which includes upgrading of the wastewater treatment plant, building a reclamation dam and installation of water meters to improve revenue collection.”

In addition, the department appointed the universities of Pretoria and Witwatersrand to investigate the causes of the failure of the Jagersfontein TSF to assist the department in ensuring that similar occurrences are prevented in future, as well as improve its regulation of tailings dam safety.

“This is a very complex technical matter, and the investigation is expected to be concluded by the end of March 2024,” the DWS said.

Meanwhile, in April 2023, the DWS called on all mining houses countrywide to register tailings dams that meet the requirements to be classified as dams with a safety risk in an effort to ensure that all such structures in the country are regulated.

These are dams that have a wall height exceeding five metres and are able to store 50 000 m3 of liquid.

The department intends to gazette a notice to enable it to compel those mining houses that are reluctant to comply and register and to institute enforcement actions against those not heeding the notice.

DWS is also working with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, as well as using satellite technology to identify possible non-complying TSFs.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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