Speakers highlight focus areas to tackle mine water challenges

23rd May 2024 By: Tasneem Bulbulia - Senior Contributing Editor Online

Speakers highlight focus areas to tackle mine water challenges

South Africa has made considerable strides in addressing mine water challenges; however, it is imperative that these efforts are bolstered and improved upon, through aligning research with implementation, ensuring that the correct processes are in place and adapting the regulatory environment to be more conducive for the reuse and management of mine water.

This was highlighted by speakers participating in Creamer Media’s Mine Water webinar, held on May 22.

Facilitating the webinar, MK Water and Mine Water Consultancy director Marius Keet posited that South Africa was the forerunner in technology research and development regarding mine water, with academic institutions doing very well in this regard.

However, there was a disconnect between this, and the developers that needed to develop and implement these solutions practically, he pointed out, which necessitated collaboration.

Interwaste group business development and marketing director Kate Stubbs said there were lots of challenges, but also, considerable opportunities, and that the latter should be focused on.

She emphasised the need for mining houses to implement the correct solutions to manage mine water, with this needing to be bespoke, with no “one size fits all” approach, instead requiring the correct commercial models and strategies about used mine water to be treated, and to what standard.

University of Cape Town associate professor Jennifer Broadhurst pointed out that the current "onerous" regulatory environment in the country was a barrier to implementing innovative solutions.

She expanded that the regulatory environment was prohibitive to the implementation of proactive solutions, such as using mine water for irrigation.

She said that technology was not the issue, with the country having the requisite resources in this regard, and rather, what was required was finding and implementing the correct ones, which were fit for purpose, and cognisant of the environmental, economic, social and political factors.

SRK Consulting principal hydrologist Peter Shepherd emphasised that the developments undertaken by the mining industry over the past 30 years had to continue and be bolstered.

He said that lots of work had been done and that the attitude of mining houses had shifted to being cognisant of the challenges surrounding mine water, and the need to address this proactively.

Harmony Gold Mining Company senior sustainable development manager Jozua Ellis highlighted that South Africa had the technical abilities, capacity and resources necessary to tackle the challenges.

He added that the country had kept abreast of developments and applied technologies that were realistic to adopt.

Ellis and Stubbs were in agreement on the need for proper assessment of long-term feasibility of solutions, with the need to analyse economic models rather than just blindly committing to a process that was not commercially viable.

He emphasised that there was a significant opportunity for partnerships – within the mining sector, across other industries, with communities, and with government – in exploring how to convert a liability to a resource.

Ellis also called for an enabling regulatory environment, with mining houses requiring consistency in policies. “We want strong regulation that gives us the ability to plan long term, execute short term, and has some degree of flexibility and guidance as to what the country’s policies are around mine water.”

Positively, he said that there did seem to be changes occurring that were allowing more private participation and mining houses to get involved in the wastewater treatment space and called for this to be capitalised on.