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Mine water reclamation plant wins global recognition

Fiona Macleod

Anglo American's eMalahleni water reclamation plant, was the only mining initiative to be endorsed by the United Nations at COP17.

A past winner of two Mail & Guardian Greening the Future awards, Anglo American’s eMalahleni water reclamation plant, was the only mining initiative to be endorsed by the United Nations Momentum for Change initiative at COP17.

The plant, which treats polluted mine water to attain potable standards, won two categories in the Greening the Future awards in 2007—the water-care category and the award for innovative environmental strategies that improve business performance.

The initiative’s endorsement cemented the project’s green credentials. Nine other projects from around the world were endorsed, including a landfill reforestation project at Buffelsdraai, north of Durban.

The UN’s initiative was launched at COP17 by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. President Jacob Zuma, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and the United Kingdom’s climate change expert, Lord Nicholas Stern, were among those who attended the ceremony.

The initiative aims to combat climate change by raising the profile of successful adaptation and mitigation projects that use effective private-public partnerships in developing countries.

‘Recognition by the Momentum for Change initiative is a testament to the water reclamation plant’s considerable success. Since it was commissioned in 2007, it has created far-reaching benefits for the environment, the local community and its feeder collieries, and has received widespread endorsement as a best practice model,” said Peter Gunther, Anglo American’s head of sustainable development.

The plant was designed to recycle water for the remaining 20- to 25-year life span of contributing mines in the eMalahleni coalfields of Mpumalanga and cater for post-closure liabilities, he said.

It has a 99% water recovery rate and the ultimate goal is for it to be a zero-waste facility. It prevents polluted mine water from decanting into the environment and the local river system in one of South Africa’s fastest-growing and most polluted urban areas.

‘Ultimately, it will help to address long-term climate adaptation risks and promote a sustainable future for the region, providing better flexibility and self-sufficiency in terms of water usage,” Gunther said.

The plant desalinates 30 megalitres of water a day and there are plans to expand capacity to 50 megalitres a day by the end of next year.

The water is sourced from rising underground waste water in operational collieries and a disused South Witbank Colliery mine. After treatment, most of the water is pumped directly into the eMalahleni local municipality’s reservoirs, meeting 20% of the daily water requirements of the region’s 510000 people.

The plant has treated more than 30-billion litres of water and supplied 22-billion litres of water to the local municipality. It also supplies eight megalitres of potable water a day to other local mining houses.

Anglo American’s enterprise development arm, Zimele, uses some of the plant’s water for the retail bottling industry, selling it under the banner 4Life.

The water reclamation project, a public-private partnership involving Anglo American, BHP Billiton and the eMalahleni municipality, also won the sustainability category of Nedbank Capital’s Green Mining awards in 2007. These recognise mining and beneficiation companies for their contribution to sustainability and the environment.

In addition to its environmental achievements, it created up to 700 temporary jobs during the construction phase and 40 permanent positions for the running of the plant.

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