Blow to NC mining as water rights revoked
THE REVOCATION of water rights for mining near Pniel could severely hamper mining operations in the area.
While the revocation of the water rights does not mean that all mining must come to a complete standstill in the area, the lack of access to water is likely to severely hinder operations. Spokesperson for the national Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Sputnik Ratau, confirmed that the water rights had been revoked after an investigation was conducted into the practices of the mining operations earlier this year.
“The DWS conducted an investigation at Astro Tail Mine/ Rushtail 31 Pty Ltd on April 6, 2017,” Ratau said in a statement issued by the department. “There were reasonable grounds to believe that the mine commenced with activities defined as water uses in terms of Section 21 of the National Water Act (NWA).”
These activities included taking water from a water resource, storing water and disposing of waste in a manner that could detrimentally impact on a water resources without an authorisation. “These grounds were confirmed during the investigation. Operating without water use authorisation is non-compliance.”
Ratau said that in April, the DWS expressed its intention to issue a directive for the mining companies to cease using water at the site until they provided proof of authorisation to use the water supplies.
“The water user responded through written representation on May 2. A meeting was held at the DWS’s Northern Cape offices with the various role-players. During this meeting Astro Tail Mine, Rushtail 31 (Pty) Ltd, and the Pniel CPA (Community Property Association) indicated that they had applied for a water use authorisation with the department on March 17, 2016.”
While the DWS acknowledged that they had received the application for authorisation to use the water, Ratau emphasised that this application did not serve as authorisation to use water in the interim.
“Thus, the department indicated that they would proceed with administrative action to ensure compliance,” he added.
A few days later, the DWS confirmed that the Water User’s Licence (WUL) had indeed been authorised, a ruling that was met by an appeal to the Water Tribunal by the Pniel CPA the following day. As a result of this appeal, the WUL was suspended and a letter of notification was issued to the Pniel CPA.
“Until the suspension is lifted, no water use can continue on Pniel,” Ratau emphasised. “Therefore, on Monday, September 4 the provincial office issued a directive to Rushtail 31 (Pty) Ltd and Pniel CPA to stop all water usage within two days, pending the upliftment of the suspension on the WUL or the outcome of the appeal.”
Ratau concluded by saying that while using water on the site was illegal, mining activities were technically allowed to continue. “It is important to note that only the water usage needs to stop. The DWS does not stop mining activities like excavation, trucking and stockpiling of material which fall under the jurisdiction of the DMR (Department of Mineral Resources).”
Meanwhile, the DMR said in a statement that it was not aware of the revocation of the WUL for the site, saying that this was part of the DWS’s mandate.
“The DMR does not regulate water rights and we have not been informed by the DWS of any water rights that have been revoked,” read the statement.
“The company is operating in terms of an approved mining right and should there be any non-compliance, this department will follow the administrative justice process to ensure that they take rectifying steps.
“In terms of legislation administered by this department, we have issued a section 31L pre-compliance notice in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, to address certain environmental issues.”