Olifants Catchment mining water licences in the spotlight

The Lower Olifants river. Image: SAPECS

The Lower Olifants river. Image: SAPECS

The DWS has taken little action to stop the pollution, and to hold mining companies that are polluting water resources accountable.

The 2013 National Water Resources Strategy, published by the department of water and sanitation (DWS), identified the Olifants Catchment as “one of South Africa’s most stressed catchments in terms of both water quantity and water quality.

The Centre for Environmental Rights said that despite comprehensive research and damning reports about the impacts of coal mining on the Olifants Catchment and the recognition of the threat coal mining poses to water resources in the catchment, the DWS takes little or no action to stop the pollution, and to hold polluting mining companies responsible, reports Witbank News.

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Moreover, given that the DWS has never published its own report on the results of its compliance monitoring and enforcement activities, and that the DWS does not force companies to publish compliance data themselves, it is usually very difficult for the public and affected communities to assess whether mining companies operating in the catchment are in fact complying with the conditions of their water use licences.

Tracy-Lynn, field professor for School of Law, chair of the board of the Centre for Environmental RightsUniversity of the Witwatersrand, said: “What we do know, however, is that mining companies are required by law to obtain and comply with the conditions of a water use licence, and that non-compliance with those conditions is a criminal offence and may lead to the suspension of that water use licence. Monitoring and enforcement of compliance with water use licence conditions, or the absence thereof, is therefore vital to understanding why pollution prevention and control has gone so horribly wrong in the Olifants River Catchment.”

This project evaluated eight coal-mining companies in the Olifants and Wilge Catchment Areas, questioning the following:

• How the monitoring and independent auditing of compliance with water use licences are undertaken;
• Whether licence holders, in fact, comply with the conditions of their water use licences; and
• What enforcement action was taken in circumstances where non-compliance was identified.

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